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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Comics That Should Be Translated: L'Epee d'Ardenois

Originally, I had planned on writing this review late last year, but alas, other things got in the way. Still, better late than never; its been awhile since I last made a post focusing on a comic that I enjoyed and L'Epee d'Ardenois is certainly worthy of being the subject of the first comic-related post of the year and I can assure you that it won't be the last one.

L'Epee d'Ardenois (The Sword of Ardenois) is a French anthro comic created by Etienne Willem; it was originally published in four parts and when was later collected into one hefty volume. Its the latter version that I have read.

Set in a medieval fantasy world, L'Epee d'Ardenois is the story of Garen, a young village-boy who idolizes the aging knight Godefroid. Twenty years ago, the dark lord Nuhy sought to conquer the world (as dark lords are wont to do), but was defeated by an alliance of the three kingdoms, led by a group of heroes known as The Companions of the Dawn (could this be a reference to Bourgeon's Les Compagnons de Crepuscule/The Companions of the Twilight, I wonder?), Godefroid being one of them.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, otherwise we wouldn't have a story), evil never stays vanquished for long and so, almost as soon as the comic has begun, Garen's peaceful village is attacked by Nuhy's right-hand man; Hellequin of the Cursed Woods. During the attack, Godefroid is killed and his blade, the titular sword is taken. Garen tries to come to his hero's aid, but is easily overpowered and left for dead by Hellequin. Garen is nursed back to health by the ow Maquis, who gives him the mission to find the reaming Companions of the Dawn; Arthus, Grimbert and Lafouine and with their help unite the three kingdoms against Nuhy's forces once more, before Hellequin can assemble all the pieces of Nuhy's old armor and thus, bring his master back from the grave. 

Not an easy task and it does not become easier due to the fact that the kingdoms once allies now eye one another with suspicion and distrust. 

L'Epee d'Ardenois is one of those comics that I knew I had to read from the moment I first heard about it and saw some of the artwork and once I had the complete volume in my hands and began to read it, I was not disappointed. In preparation for this review, I re-read the whole thing and I am pleased to say that my feelings toward the comic have not been diminished. . What starts out as a fairly clear-cut story about the never-ending struggle of good versus evil, gradually becomes more complex and morally grey, with many of the "good guys" being willing to use less than ethical methods in order to ensure peace.

I've read my fair share of anthro (or if you prefer funny animal, though the term seems a bit misleading in this case) comics in my day. fFom Barks' Donald Duck to Macherot's Chlorophylle and Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, just to mention a few. L'Epee d'Ardenois, with its detailed vivid artwork,  engaging characters and page-turner of a plot, stands among the best that this genre has to offer and is a comic that definitely should be translated.


Cover to the complete collection
Garen trains with Godefroid
Hellequin attacks

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Chapter 27

Your Majesty:
It is my privilege to report that the band of raiders that had been such a scourge for the villages and settlements in the northern parts of your realm, has finally been vanquished. The battle against these rogues have been long and hard, but at last justice have prevailed. As of the time I am writing this message, most of the bandits are dead; having fallen in battle, with their surviving comrades having surrendered and been taken into custody.

We interrogated the  prisoners, as per Your Majesty's instructions and finally, one of them broke. He confessed that the new and superior equipment they had received had come from Frigonia and that the person, who provided them with said equipment was a wolverine with different-colored eyes.
I know of one person who fits that description. His name is Enoch and he is a part of the inner circle around Frigon III. Its my personal belief that these raids were meant to sow terror and leave us weakened to an invasion of the kind that Frigon III's grand-father, the first of that name launched, all those years ago.

That invasion ended with our victory, but of course, I need not remind Your Majesty about that. Ever since, the Frigonians have kept to their own borders and our two nations have been at peace. I know that we wish it to remain that way and so, I suggest that Your Majesty send an emissary north to let Frigon know that we are aware of his country's involvement with these bandits. Hopefully, the emissary can convince him to give up his ambitions, but in the meantime, I strongly urge that we strengthen our defenses and prepare for war.

Until then, I have the honor to remain Your Majesty's Obedient Servant.
-General Ursus in correspondence with king Sharan of Vinoli.


In his castle in Friborg, the capital and only major city of Frigonia, the nation's current king, Frigon IV, was enjoying some time off from his many duties, by indulging in a brief nap.
We should point out that Frigon was a young ruler, he had only been five years old when his father had died during the second war between Frigonia and Vinoli. Since the young king was but a child at the time, his uncle Orloff had become regent.  Orloff had quickly realized that despite his country's initial success, Frigonia could not win this war and thus, he had sent a message to Ursus, who at the time was the commander of the Vinolian army, suing for peace. The message was forwarded to king Sharan and shortly afterward, the regent and the dragon-king met on neutral ground, signing the treaty. With that the war was over, Frigonia pulled back its troops and the survivors returned to their families.

The years passed and eventually, Frigon IV reached adulthood and could begin governing his realm
after his own fashion. However, he kept his uncle on as a councilor, having come to appreciate his advise.
As he lay splayed on top of his bed, eyes close and mouth open, Frigon felt someone shaking his shoulder. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and saw his uncle standing before him.
"What is it, uncle?" He asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"Forgive me Your Majesty", replied the older ermine, "but you have best come with me. Something has happened that require your attention."
"Very well".

The King got up, having only taken a short nap he had not felt the need to take off his clothes and so, he followed his uncle through the hallways and out onto the castle's battlements. Under the open sky, a cold wind blew and Frigon wrapped himself in his cape. A lone sentinel made a salute.
"Well, uncle?" The King asked, shivering. "What was so important that I had to come out here in this damn cold?"
"Take a look, Your Majesty", Orloff replied, motioning for his nephew to come closer to the edge and then pointed outwards, beyond the city walls.
The King followed his uncle's finger, until he saw what it was pointing at. The shock caused him to reel backwards.
"That's an army", he said, voice cracking. "Right outside our walls.."

Orloff nodded, hands behind his back.
"The Vinolian army, to be precise."
"Why?" Frigon shouted, grabbing his uncle's collar. "Why are they here? How did they get here? What about the peace treaty?"
Orloff calmly grabbed his nephew's paws and removed them.
"Well, we did try to conquer them twice", he said, smiling wryly. "Perhaps they simply figured it was their turn this time?"
"I'm not in the mood for jokes, uncle!" The King snapped, excitement making his voice high-pitched.
"My apologies, Your Majesty", Orloff said, calmly meeting the King's stare.. "You are quite correct; the Vinolian army's precense here is no laughing matter. What are your orders?"

"We must find out what they want" Frigon said, wiping his brow with the back of his paw. "Uncle, I want you to go to the Vinolians and talk to their leader. Will you do that?" He added in a beseeching tone, having always found it hard to give orders to the relative who had ruled the country in his stead for so long.
"Your Majesty can count on me", Orloff said, bowing. "I shall leave at once."
"Do that. In the meantime, I suppose I shall have to gather the members of the council and inform them that we're at siege."
The king headed back inside, but Orloff remained on the battlements, staring down at the invading army, sitting there like a beast, waiting to strike.


The command, given in a short, barking tone, cut through the air. 
Fixating the two Vinolian soldiers, whose spears were trained at him, Orloff held up his right paw in a gesture for peace, while sweeping his cape aside, to show that he did not carry a sword.
"I am the Prince Orloff", he said. "Uncle to His Majesty Frigon IV. I wish to speak to your general."
The soldiers, a stoat and a boar eyed him suspiciously.
"Search him", the boar said.
Knowing that protesting would just waste valuable time, Orloff allowed the stoat to pat him down.
"He's clear", the stoat announced to his colleague.
"Very well", grunted the boar. "Come with us."
Walking through the enemy camp, Orloff could not help but admire the promptness by which the Vinolian soldiers carried out their orders, but this admiration was tinged with a large dose of apprehension:
They just arrived and they already have everything ready for an attack, the Prince thought with unease as he observed the Vinolian weapons gleaming in the sunlight and the war-machines that stood assembled.
Eventually, they made halt in front of a dark-blue tent, the largest in the camp. 
"Wait here", the boar said, before stepping into the tent. Mere Seconds later, he came back out and announced to Orloff that the general would see him.

Stepping inside the tent, Orloff found himself face to face with a tall, broad-shouldered lynx wearing a red cape and a breast plate. So this was the leader of the Vinolian army. 
"Welcome, Your Highness" said the lynx, his voice deep and well-modulated. "I am general Jeraddin, what can I do for you?"
Orloff looked at Jeraddin, unable to shake a feeling that he had seen him before. Than, it hit him:
"If I'm not mistaken, you were part of general Ursus' staff during the last war?" He said.
"I was, I must admit that I am surprised, not to mention flattered, that Your Highness would remember me."
The Prince nodded.
"Yes, its all coming back to me now. I seem to remember you giving us quite a bit of trouble back then."
"I hope that Your Highness is not holding a grudge?" Jeraddin said with a smile.
"Not at all. As the saying goes; all is fair in love and war."

They sat down at the table and Jeraddin asked Orloff if he wanted any refreshments, but the latter declined.
"I shall go right down to business, general. My nephew the king has sent me here to find out the reason for your presence here. Surely, King Sharan can not be unaware that this completely violates the treaty our nations signed?"
"We don't have a King anymore", Jeraddin replied and Orloff noticed the sadness that had crept into his voice. "Only a Queen, its she who sends us here."
"I am sorry to hear that. I always held your King in high regard."
"Thank you, Highness."
Orloff felt that they had gotten away from the reason for him being there. After all, this was not a social call.
"General", he said. "For what reason does your Queen send you to invade our country?"
"Well, Your Highness, according to Her Majesty, you Frigonians are planning an invasion of our country."

Upon hearing this, Orloff stood up so fast that his chair tipped over.
"That's a lie!" He shouted, his fist hitting the surface of the table.
Jeraddin nodded.
"Oh, I believe you" he said, calmly. "Its exactly the sort of thing our Queen would dream up."
Orloff picked up his chair and sat down on it. Suddenly, he felt ashamed at having lost his temper, especially in front of an enemy.
"Than why?" He asked.
"Your Highness, I am a soldier. My first duty is to my country and my sovereign, despite what I may think of her personally."
"I can respect that."
"Your Highness, my Queen wish is to unite our two nations under one flag, the same thing your grand-father and brother both attempted, she has given me orders not to return home until the Vinolian flag has been raised on the battlements of castle Friborg."
Jeraddin paused to let his words sink in, then continued:
"However, I have no wish to spill blood if it can be avoided, so I will give Your Highness an offer: Tell the King that if he gives up the city without a fight, I will guarantee his safety and that of everyone in his entourage."

Orloff had listened to the lynx's proposition with closed eyes and his mouth a thin line.
He wanted to hurl the words back into Jeraddin's face, telling him that the people of Friborg would defend their home until the last rather than bending the knee to a foreign power and he was just about to do that, but checked himself: He was no longer regent, it was not up to him to make the final decision and besides, wasn't the offer generous? Certainly more than any that his brother had given king Sharan during the last war.
"I shall convene your message to the king", he said, standing up. "Farewell, General. You will forgive you that I do not shake your hand."
"Farewell, Your Highness. I expect the King's reply promptly. The men who brought you here will escort you back to the city-gate, unharmed."

As he watched Orloff leave, Jeraddin became conscious of another person next to him, a female hedgehog.
"Permission to speak, sir" the hedgehog said.
"Sir, why did you let him go? We could have used him as leverage to force the King to give us the city."
Jeraddin looked at the hedgehog and realized that she was young, probably only a few years older than Risha. For a moment, when he looked at her, it was his daughter's face that he saw and he found himself praying that Frigon IV would see reason and open the gates.

Friday, January 19, 2018

On Heroes and Villains (though mostly the latter)

Had you asked me when I was a child which I preferred, heroes or villains, my answer would definitely have been in favor of the latter. From Dr. Claw to  The Phantom Blot, Captain Hook (the Dustin Hoffman version), Bowser, Ganon and a wide assortment of Disney-villains, the bad guys in stories almost always seemed cooler, more interesting and more charismatic than their goody-goody counterparts.
These days, however, things are a bit different. Yes, I do still think that there's nothing like a truly great villain and there have been instances when I decided to check out some work of fiction, solely on the basis that the villain seemed interesting. I would most likely never have watched Star vs. the Forces of Evil if it wasn't for Toffee, to name one example.

That said, I can also come up with plenty of stories in which the hero is an engaging, complex character and the villain is simply just there because the story needed a villain. Take Casablanca for example; one of the greatest movies of all time, to be sure and yet, does anyone actually think Major Strasser is more interesting than Rick Blaine?

While we're at it, I must confess that as I grow older I like the concept of the endlessly recurring arch-villain less and less. Olrik from the Blake &  Mortimer comics is a particularly flagrant example of this kind of character. Now, I haven't bought any new Blake & Mortimer in years, but out of the albums I own, there are only two in which Olrik is not present in some capacity. There are twenty-two Blake & Mortimer albums on my shelf. That means that twenty of those feature the same villain. To be fair, some of these albums tells a continuing story over two or three installments, but that's still a lot.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that every villain should perish at the end of their first appearance. If you've managed to create a good villain, than I can certainly understand wanting to bring them back for a re-match or two in order to further flesh out their character. However, after awhile it starts to become forced and trite. Plus, it risks hurting the villain's credibility: After all, he didn't manage to kill the hero and take over the world the other umpteenth times they fought, so why should this time be any different?

Ultimately, I prefer to judge a character based on how interesting they are as a character, regardless of what role they have in the story. If the villain's the most compelling character, than that's great and if that honor goes to the hero...well, that's great too.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thimbleweed Park

If you, like me, love adventure games, than Ron Gilbert is a name that you no doubt recognize and hold in high esteem and for those of you who have never heard of this Ron Gilbert fellow before, well, pull up a chair, its time for a brief history lesson: 
Ron Gilbert was instrumental in the development of the point & click adventure game genre. Not only did he create SCUMM, the engine used in pretty much every LucasArts adventure game during the company's golden age, but he also created such classics as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island

Gilbert's (and by extension, LucasArts') design-philosophy stood in sharp contrast to that of Sierra Entertainment, who up until then, had dominated the genre: Gilbert felt that the many deaths presents in games such as the King's Quest series, as well as not allowing players to go back and pick up items that they had no way of knowing would become important later on, thus rendering the player irrevocably stuck, to be deeply unfair and this is reflected in the games he made. Admittedly, the player could die in the early LucasArts adventure games, but nowhere near as much or as often as in those made by Sierra (there's a reason why its called Sierra Sudden Death Syndrome after all).

In 1992, Ron Gilbert left LucasArts to focus on other ventures. He co-founded Humongous Entertainment, which specialized in edutainment titles such as the Putt Putt and Freddy Fish series. He was also the producer of the real-time strategy game Total Annihilation. Now, I should point out that I have not played any of Gilbert's post-LucasArts games and at any rate, they are not what this post is all about. No, this is about Thimbleweed Park, Ron Gilbert's grand return to making a bona fide point & click adventure game of the old-school. In many ways, Thimbleweed Park feels like the closing of a circle, as Gilbert returns to the genre that he helped perfect.
Co-created with Gary Winnick, another old LucasArts employee and close collaborator of Gilbert's, Thimbleweed Park was funded via Kickstarter and was released last year. 

The game takes place in the eponymous town in the year 1987 and features five different protagonists. They are as follows:

Angela Ray and Antonio Reyes - Two FBI agents who have arrived in town to investigate a murder. Or at least, that's the official reason why they are here. Unofficially, they also have more personal motives for being in Thimblweed Park.

Delores Edmund -Niece of Chuck Edmund, owner of the local Pillow Factory and the man who put Thimbleweed Park on the map. Delores was once Chuck's presumed heir, but fell out of favor after pursuing a career as a game designer. With her uncle's recent demise, she has returned to town to hear the reading of his will.

Franklin Edmund - Delores' father and Chuck's put-upon brother. Early on, Franklin is murdered and spends the rest of the game as a ghost. His goal is to escape the confines of the hotel in which he was killed and take farewell of his daughter, before passing on to the afterlife.

Ransome the Insult Clown - Once a popular comedian and the star-act of the local circus. During one of his performances, Ransome insulted the wrong person and was cursed with never being able to remove his make-up. As a result of this, Ransome's career tanked and he is now a bitter has-been, despised by the townspeople.

During the course of the game, the player has to switch between these five characters in order to solve puzzles and come closer to solve the mystery that haunts Thimbleweed Park, a mystery whose solution might lie inside the abandoned Pillow Factory...

If you've played any of LucasArts adventure game, then you'll be right at home playing Thimbelweed Park. The game plays exactly the same as, say Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island. Basically, you have a list of verbs, such as "use", that you click on and then click on whatever item you wish to interact with. Simple and efficient.

Visually, Thimbleweed Park looks great, with its 2-d graphics being very detailed and lovely to look at. The game also has a really nice atmosphere, mixing the lighthearted and quirky with something more menacing. In that regard, the game definitely reminded me of the first two Monkey Island games, which managed to evoke a similar mood.

The voice acting of the game is uniformly of good, though special mention must go to Nicole Oliver and Ian James Corlett, who do the voices of Agent Ray and Ransome respectively. Oliver is perfect as Ray, a cynical opportunist who usually does not even bother to hide her utter contempt for Thimbleweed Park and its quirky inhabitants, while Corlett makes Ransome in turns deliberately obnoxious, repugnant and, most importantly, funny. 

So, having lavished a lot of praise on Thimbleweed Park do I have everything negative to say about this game at all? Surely, there must be something, right? Well, there is one thing actually and that's the ending of the game. While the characters' individual stories are each wrapped up in a satisfying manner, the big plot-twist, regarding the truth of the town did not really do it for me. I get the feeling that Ron Gilbert wanted to pull another Monkey Island 2; a game whose ending is one of the most famous in adventure game history. However, it didn't work as well the second time around. Unfortunately, I can't go into further details regarding how I felt about the game's ending without giving away major spoilers and I do not wish to do that, since it would perhaps risk turning people off from trying the game at all.
And that would be a shame, because no matter how it ends, the rest of Thimbleweed Park is a terrific game, one that every fan of the genre should have in their collection. I hope its not the case, but if this turns out to be the last adventure game Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick ever make, its a high note to go out on.

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)

Originally I wasn't going to watch this movie until it became available on Netflix. 
However, due to circumstances I decided  to go ahead and watch the film through other means. The reason for this is that this guy I'm subscribing to on YouTube recently put up a blind commentary-video of this very film, as a Christmas special and I didn't watch his video until after I had seen the movie on my own. At the same time, I didn't want to put off watching it for the time it would take until Netflix added it to their library, so here we are.

If you have visited this blog before, you are most likely aware of my opinion regarding My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. If not, then suffice to say that its a show that I have a deep fondness for. 
I went into it with a great degree of skepticism, but it managed to win me over and ultimately, I consider it to be one of the best animated shows to come out this decade. Considering my enjoyment of the show and its characters, you'd think that my expectations for the first movie in this series to take place entirely in Equestria proper, would be pretty high up in the air, but they actually weren't. 
I did not go into the movie excepting it to be bad, but I wasn't expecting it to be a masterpiece either. 

Let me make one thing clear from the start: I do not consider My Little Pony: The Movie to be a great animated feature. As far as animated family-films go, its trounced completely by the best titles that Disney and Pixar have in their libraries (not to mention Ghibli). It is, however, a good deal more enjoyable than the weaker efforts from these titans. I can in all honestly say that I would put My Little Pony: The Movie (henceforth to be referred to as simply The Movie) on the same level as, say, Big Hero 6 and I would definitely take it over the likes of Cars or Dinosaurs any day. 
That said, let's take a look at the film itself.

The Movie begins in Canterlot where our main protagonist Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship is busy preparing for a festival of her own invention. However, the celebrations are quickly cut short by the arrival of an invading army headed by Tempest Shadow; a rogue unicorn, working for the evil Storm King, who has promised to heal her broken horn, if she delivers up the magic of the four princesses to him. Twilight, being the only princess who is not incapacitated by Tempest's weapons, escapes with her friends. Their goal is to find the queen of the Hippos, who hopefully will find a way to help them rescue their conquered homeland. Unfortunately, Tempest and her goons are hot on their trail.

If I was to point to this movie's greatest assets, I'd definitely point to the sound and the visuals. Friendship Is Magic has always been a very good looking show and so, its no small wonder that the movie, armed with a bigger budget and all that, was going to be a feast for the eyes. My only real complaint regarding the visuals is the way that Twilight and the other ponies look. Of course, they have always been cute and I don't mind cute, but here I thought their designs on occasion, strayed too far into the realm of the saccharine for my taste. 

The soundtrack and voice-acting for the show are likewise for high quality, but then I wasn't expecting anything less. The regular voice-actors all do a great job with their characters and are joined by the likes of Taye Diggs, Emily Blunt and Liev Schreiber, (voicing Capper, Tempest Shadow and The Storm King, respectively) who bring their parts to life convincingly. Likewise, the songs are really good and I doubt that I surprise anyone if I say that I consider the villain-song, Open Up Your Eyes, to be he movie's stand-out number.

Character-wise, most of the new characters introduced in this movie are fine. Capper, although he doesn't bring anything new to the role, is a good example of the loveable rogue archetype. Same thing goes for the likes of Captain Celano, Queen Nova and Princess Sky-Star. All of them characters that I wouldn't mind seeing in the show proper.

However, the real star of the movie, even more so than Twilight and pals, is definitely Tempest Shadow, whose ruthlessness and drive makes for a great antagonist. She's not my favorite MLP villain, but she's definitely in my top 5. Her villain-song, which explains her backstory and world-view, helps a lot in this regard. Speaking of Tempest, I will also say that I didn't find Grubber, her second in command, as annoying as I had feared he would be (relatively speaking, he's still one of the weaker parts of the movie).

By comparison, the Storm King is unfortunately, something of a disappointment: I liked his design and, as mentioned, Schreiber did a good job voicing him, but I didn't find him to be nearly as compelling, or competent a villain as Tempest. Its possible to have a villain who is both comedic and genuinely menacing at the same time, but in this case, I would have preferred if the writers had toned down the more comedic elements, as it was, I found myself wondering how this guy became the feared head of a world conquering army. He works as an off-screen presence though.

I suppose I should write something about Sia's character, Songbird Serande, but I can't really think of anything to say about her. She's a celebrity cameo and that's all there is to her. I must admit that I had never heard of Sia before this movie, so I can't say that her being in this movie was a big draw for me.

Ultimately my biggest gripe with The Movie comes down to the fact that while its well-made and fun, its also pretty generic and predictable, especially if you are familiar with the show itself. 
Of course Cadence and the Original Princesses are going to turn out to be completely useless against the new villains. Of course Twilight and her friends are going to have falling out somewhere down the line and of course, one of the villains (no prize for guessing who) will see the error of their ways and be redeemed by the magic of friendship. Don't misunderstand me, I get that this is a movie meant for kids, but it would have been nice to see the writers subvert expectations and take some risks. Perhaps the sequel will be more ambitious, one can at least hope.

To sum it up, if you are already a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, than you're most likely going to enjoy the movie. I did, despite some of my criticisms. If you are not, than I highly doubt that this movie is going to make you into a convert.

Happy Holidays everypo...everybody.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Chapter 26

It had become afternoon when Risha and Merees returned to the village. Before that, they had cleaned themselves up in the lake and afterwards, had lied close together on the floor of the cave, waiting for their bodies to dry. Upon entering the village, they saw that a large crowd had gathered in the square.
Their curiosity awakened, the lynx and the dragon made their way past the crowd, in order to see what had gotten the islanders' attention: Standing on a wooden crate, was a short, slenderly built faun, wearing a red cape. Next to him stood a group of men and women, all of various age and species.
Risha could not help but stare; fauns were an unusual sight in Vinoli and she had never seen one in real-life before. The faun was addressing the crowd, his melodious voice carried by the breeze.

"Yes, my friends, once again we at Eramus' Ocean Theatre has arrived at your fair island in order to help you forget the troubles of your daily lives and whisk you away to a world of your pure imagination: The ship which serves as our stage lies anchored in your port. This evening, you're all welcome aboard. Do not miss this opportunity to enrich your lives, my friends."
"What play are you showing?" Shouted a voice in the crowd.
The faun looked in the direction the voice had come from.
"An excellent question, madam. This year we will give you The Legend of Selvano; a true classic filled with drama, adventure and romance."

"I know that play", said Risha excitedly to Merees, without taking her eyes from the kobold.
"We had a copy of it at home. My father and I used to read the characters' lines to each other. He usually read the villain. You should have heard him; he was absolutely terrifying."
The  lynx-girl smiled wistfully as she recalled these memories.
"I've never seen it performed though. Say, why don't we go to the show? It could be fun."
When she didn't get an answer, Risha turned around and noticed that Merees was no longer by her side.
Where did she go? Risha wondered. She looked around until she spotted a familiar figure, wandering the streets.

Making her way past the crowd, Risha shouted Merees' name. Upon hearing it, the dragon stopped, allowing the other girl to catch up with her.
"What happened?" Risha asked, concern and vexation mingling in the tone of her voice. "Is something wrong?"
Merees sighed.
"I'm sorry", she said. "It's just...the play, I've seen it before."
"Oh. Was it with your father?"
"No, it was with..."
A pained expression passed over the princess' face. She left the final word unsaid, but she did not need to say it, Risha knew all too well whom she was referring to.
"I see. It's too bad, I really wanted to see that play."
"Well, you can still see it, there's no reason for you to miss out on my account."

Risha said nothing, from the moment that she had heard the title of the play, she had wanted to see it together with the girl she loved, but apparently that was not meant to be. Understandably, she could not help but feel a bit disappointed. Gradually, the disappointment got mixed with a growing sense of annoyance. Was this how things were going to be? What other enjoyable experiences would she be unable to share with Merees, because they reminded her of Argath's treachery? The words passed over Risha's lips before she she realized that she had spoken them out-loud:
"Are you going to let your sister control your life? Our lives?" She blurted out.

Merees stiffened, she looked at Risha with disbelief and anger.
"Have you forgotten what she did?" She asked hotly. "She murdered my father and my brothers and would have killed me as well? She's the reason why you and your brother have been separated from your parents."
"I know that..." Risha protested. "It's just..."
"You could have fooled me", Merees continued, her voice growing more agitated with each new word. "I watched my father die before my eyes and I could do nothing to prevent it from happening. That is something I will never get over, I am sorry if that inconveniences you."
With those words, the princess turned her back on Risha and stomped off, before the lynx had the opportunity to say another word.

Risha watched her leave with rage burning in her veins. She was angry at Merees, for refusing to acknowledge her point-of-view. She was angry at Argath, who was the reason for this dispute, but most of all, she was angry at herself.
You idiot, she thought bitterly. Why couldn't you keep your mouth shut. Its just a play.
The lynx-girl gave vent to her frustrations by punching a nearby wall and letting out a curse-word. This earned her an angry look from a woman who was passing by with her child. The mother covered her offspring's ears while shaking her head reproachfully at the offender.
Unfortunately for Risha, this outburst did not bring her any lasting satisfaction, she slumped down against the wall, feeling as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders.

She remained like this, taking no notice of the people who passed her by.
One of the villagers mistook her for a beggar and casually tossed a coin at the ground before her, she did not move to pick it up, preferring to sit with her legs drawn up high, her eyes fixed on the cobblestones.
"What's troubling you, young lady?"
Surprised, Risha looked up and saw that the faun had appeared in front of her, without her realizing it.
"None of your business", she snapped, then immediately regretted her outburst.
"I am sorry", she said. "I got into an argument with someone dear to me, it was not my meaning to take it out on you."

The faun nodded sagely and stroked his tiny beard.
"I understand, girl-troubles, eh?"
"How did you know?" Risha asked, astounded.
"Intuition", the faun said, tipping the side of his nose.  "One might say that I have a knack for these things. By the way, my name is Eramus."
He sat down next to her and extended his hand, it was small and devoid of fur, feather or scales. Risha had never seen anything like it, she gazed at it in fascination.
"I know", she said, getting ahold of herself and grasping the offered limb. "I was in the crowd earlier. My name is Risha."
"Pleased to meet you. Say, I know we just met, but I was just about to have lunch and I do so dislike eating alone. Would you care to join me? I'll pay for your food."

Eramus' words made Risha realized that she hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. Suddenly, she became aware of how hungry she was. Still, there was a voice in her head, wondering if she could really trust this stranger. True, he seemed nice, but as the lynx-girl now knew from personal experience, anyone can seem nice. On the other hand, there were genuinely good people in the World, such as doctor Hieronymus and another stronger voice, told her that this faun belonged to this group. Besides, she could really use a shoulder to cry on.
Just then, Risha's stomach reminded her of its existence by letting out a growl. That settled things.
"I'll gladly accept your offer", she said, standing up, as she did, something occurred to her: "What about the members of your troupe? Do they not need you to be here?"
The faun shook his head.
"If they did, I would not yet take lunch. Trust me, at this point, each member of the troupe knows what they're supposed to do, which makes my life considerably easier. Shall we go?"


"So, young Risha", Eramus said, picking up the bottle of white wine and filling first her glass and then his own. "Why don't you tell me about yourself?"
The two of them sat at a corner-table in the local tavern, waiting for the meal they had ordered to arrive.
Risha took a tiny sip of her wine
"What do you want to know?" She asked.
"Well, I can't help but recognize that you speak in a Vinolian accent. Vinoli is not exactly next door, how come you ended up on this island?"
Risha told the faun how she, Leorin and Merees had boarded captain Cerewan's ship and paid for their journey. How they had been warned by Luke, the cabin-boy that the captain had planned to either hold them for ransom, or sell them into slavery and how all four of them had escaped in a life-boat, with a compass and a sack of provisions only to be caught in the middle of the storm and swept up on this island and how they had been staying with doctor Hieronymus and his niece ever since.

"That is quite the story", said Eramus. "It would make quite a play, if I do say so myself." He leaned forward, hands on the table.
"So, where does your story go from here?"
"It's nice here, but I would like to see more of the world. Besides, I can't take advantage of the doctor's hospitality much longer."
"You're doing the right thing. The world is filled with fascinating places and people and you should experience as much of it as possible, while you're still young."
"There's a certain person I'd especially like to have as a travelling companion, but after our quarrel today, I am worried that she might no longer feel the same way about me."
She uttered these words in a gloomy tone, while listlessly playing with her fork.
Feeling a deep sympathy for his newfound acquaintance, Eramus decided to offer some comforting words.
"I am sure your worries are unfounded. All couples argue from time to time, you should have heard the quarrels my late wife and I used to have."

Risha saw the truth in the faun's words. After all, there had been times when her parents had argued as well, but at the end, no matter how heated these arguments could get, they couldn't sever the love between them. The thought of this improved the lynx's mood somewhat, but it did not take long for a feeling of doubt to enter her mind, like an uninvited guest.
"I really made a mess of things though" she said, looking down at the tablecloth. "I know I should apologize, but part of me doesn't want to. Or at least, I don't want to be the first one to offer an apology."
At that moment, their food arrived; mussels, steaming hot and bathing in a spicy sauce, along with a basket of bread, and the conversation came to a halt. Risha and Eramus ate in silence, doing honor to the meal that the cook had prepared for them. Once they had finished, they both leaned back in their chairs, satisfied.
After awhile, Eramus wiped out a timepiece, a small pocket-watch from his west and glanced at it.
"I am afraid, I can't dally here any longer", he said with an apologetic smile, as he got up and tossed a few coins on the table. "Before I go, let me tell you something."

As he spoke, he looked Risha straight in the eyes.
"When Belinda and I had our first argument, I spent days agonizing over whether I should be the first one to extend an olive-branch, or if I should wait and give her the chance to apologize first. I am sure that she felt the same way. Eventually, I could not take it anymore and so, I went to her and apologized. As soon as I had uttered those words, I felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I realized then that to be the first to apologize, is not necessarily a defeat, but a victory over yourself and your own pride. Anyway, the decision here is really up to you."
With those words, the faun put on his cape, which had been draped over the back of his chair and headed towards the exit. As he did, he stopped and called out:
"Oh, give my regards to Hieronymus."
"I will", Risha called back. "Thank you for the meal."
"Thank you for the company. I hope everything works out between you."
With that he disappeared. Risha sat alone for awhile, pondering what she had just heard. Then she got up, left the tavern and began the walk back to the doctor's house.