Obi-Wan Kenobi Deals with Sieges and Double-Crosses in Part V

Here are my thoughts on the fifth episode of the Disney Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For my thoughts on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Non-Fiction Spotlight: By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga by Erica Friedman

After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.

For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.

Some people claim that the reason that SFF-related non-fiction books have increasingly been crowded out of the Best Related Work category at the Hugos is that there are not enough non-fiction books published every year to fill the Hugo ballot. This is wrong, since there is a wide spectrum of non-fiction books covering every SFF-related subject imaginable released every year. Today’s featured non-fiction book proves how wide that spectrum truly is, because it is a book about the history of lesbian relationships as portrayed in manga and anime.

Therfore I’m thrilled to welcome Erica Friedman, author of By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga to my blog today.

Cover: By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Manga and Anime by Erica Friedman

Tell us about your book.

My book is By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga.

Lesbian-themed animation and comics (and related media), known as “Yuri,” is the newest genre of Japanese pop culture. Even though it’s only been acknowledged as a separate genre for a little over a decade, Yuri has a literary and artistic history that can be traced back to the early 20th century. My book is a series of interlocking lectures and essays that trace that history and bring the story of Yuri to the present. I cover key series and creators, as well as the efforts by creators and fans to carve out a space for ourselves in the larger Japanese pop culture fandom.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Erica Friedman. I have lectured at dozens of conventions and presented at film festivals. I have edited manga, most recently Riyoko Ikeda’s epic historical classic, The Rose of Versailles. I have read, watched, thought about, written and spoken about Yuri for more than 20 years now. My blog, Okazu, is about to turn 20 years old, in fact.

What prompted you to write this book?

Yuri has passed that tipping point where it’s no longer fighting to be recognized as a genre. More Yuri manga, anime and games are coming out than I can keep up with – a very good problem to have, honestly. But as new series bring in new fans, I wanted to capture all the history up to this point, so it wouldn’t be lost in the crush. Fandom did a lot of heavy lifting in Yuri and other queer fandoms.

Yuri’s roots are also different than any other genre in Japanese pop culture, since Yuri was a feature included in all the other genres, with their own tropes. I wanted to capture the complexities of the genre’s origins in hope that other people would use this as a springboard to jump off for further research.

Plus, I just really like writing about Sailor Moon. ^_^

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

That’s a great question!  I think By Your Side is a truly unique book, because it  is a story of a brand new fandom that was born only a quarter of a century ago. If you’re part of any fan community, it’s sometimes hard to remember that  everything in fandom is changing all the time. But it is. The rise of queer content and queer fandom is shaping multiple media even as we speak. And, of course, folks who have worked in fan culture are likewise shaping their own genres in new and exciting ways.

Secondly, Japanese pop culture has had an indelible imprint on western pop culture at this point. I hope that Hugo readers are interested in that phenomenon and would like to learn about this particular piece, which was driven by fans on both sides of the globe to become something new. I also hope the LGBTQ+ folks will take a look at this book and learn that if it feels like there’s no space for them in a fandom, it should not stop them from creating that space. It’s not just possible – it’s critical to do so.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

The Yuri genre is growing so fast – and so much new content  is being created that even as we went to press, there were new works I was scrambling to squeeze in. Yuri creators are more likely to be openly queer than they were even a few years ago. I wanted to capture that.  As we were going to press, I was rewriting my look at the future of Yuri furiously!

SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?

If fiction is us, as a species, sitting around a fire, sharing our hopes, fears, aspirations and legends; then non-fiction is us passing along our skills, our lessons and our history. Non-fiction is stories, too— stories told of what was and what is…stories that shape what might be. Non-fiction gives us shoulders to stand upon.

Most importantly, non-fiction is the chronicle of us. SFF fandom is not just those who create stories. For instance, we know how many people were and still are inspired by Star Trek to seek out new worlds and new civilizations.  Non-fiction allows fans to explore spaces where we take to the stars in other ways.

Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?

While I’m here repping queer Japanese culture, I want to take a moment to shout out Queer Transfigurations: Boys Love Media in Asia ed. by James Welker.  Boy’s Love as a genre in Japan has a different trajectory than Yuri, but it’s gone global in a big way since the 1990s. Now that it is a global phenomenon, embedded into everything from anime and manga to Korean pop music. This is a collection of writing by 21 scholars, looking at the explosion of BL across Asian countries and their pop cultures.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m really excited about all the Yuri – and Yuri research — yet to come. What series, people and tropes will we be discussing in the next 20 years? I don’t know – and I can’t wait to find out.

Where can people buy your book?

I’ve got links to all the major online and several niche booksellers – plenty of non-Amazon options – for both print and digital on my site:

https://www.yuricon.com/product/bys/

(Direct links if you prefer: )

Amazon: https://amzn.to/39PTF8i
Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/a/12445/9781951320201
RightStuf: https://www.shareasale.com/m-pr.cfm?merchantID=65886&userID=2780977&productID=1247596382
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/by-your-side-erica-friedman/1141367217?ean=9781951320201
Cheapmanga.com: https://www.cheapmanga.com/product/by-your-side-the-first-100-years-of-yuri-anime-and-manga/2124?cs=true&cst=custom
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/by-your-side-16
Ebook Direct from Publisher: https://journeypress.e-junkie.com/product/1741866/By-Your-Side3A-The-First-100-Years-of-Yuri-Anime-and-Manga

Where can people find you?

Okazu: https://okazu.yuricon.com
Twitter; http://www.twitter.com/OkazuYuri
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Okazu
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/yuristudio
Discord: https://discord.gg/4NPHGH7Vc4
For all my links: https://www.yuricon.com/links/

Thank you, Erica, for stopping by and answering my question.

By Your Side backcoverAbout By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga:

The Untold Story of Lesbian Love in Japanese Anime and Comics

“The first in-depth study of Yuri in English.”

James Welker, Professor of Cross-Cultural and
Japanese Studies, Kanagawa University

Two decades in the making, By Your Side is a collection of essays, scholarly and approachable, by the Western Hemisphere’s authority on the subject. This landmark work should be in the library of any fan of anime, manga, lesbian relationships in media–or any combination of the three!

“By Your Side is the complete Yuri resource I only ever dreamed could exist…Friedman graces readers with illuminating insights as they follow her through a century of the genre’s evolution and revolution.”

Nicki Bauman, Yurimother

About Erica Friedman:

Erica Friedman is the founder of Yuricon community, and was the first publisher of Yuri manga in English, with ALC Publishing. She holds a Masters Degree in Library Science and a B.A. in Comparative Literature, and is a full-time researcher for a Fortune 100 company.

She has lectured at dozens of conventions, presented at film festivals, and participated in academic lecture series in the United States in Japan. A Manga editor, she most recently worked on Riyoko Ikeda’s epic historical classic, The Rose of Versailles.

Erica has written about Yuri for a host of prestigious Japanese and American outlets. She has written news and event reports, interviews Yuri creators and reviews Yuri anime, manga and related media on her blog Okazu since 2002.

***

Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Siblings”

The next Star Trek Strange New Worlds and Obi-Wan Kenobi reviews are coming, but I had another stressful day, relieved by the mailman (and it is a man) bringing me that elusive Masters of the Universe Origins Roboto figure, so here is another  Master-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story. I already posted a version of this story on Twitter, but this one has more dialogue. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server.

Masters of the Universe Origins Roboto

Now Roboto has a bit of a strange history. He was an action figure in the 1980s, but he only had a handful of appearances in the original Filmation cartoon, where he was an alien explorer from a planet of robots who crashlanded on Eternia, was repaired by Man-at-Arms and wound up staying and fighting alongside He-Man and his friends.

The 2002 cartoon retconned his origin and made him a sentient and intelligent robot built by Man-at-Arms originally as a chess partner for Man-e-Faces. However, Roboto wanted to be a warrior, upgraded himself and heroically sacrificed himself in order to save He-Man and all of Eternia from a plague of multiplying skeletons. Luckily, Man-at-Arms was able to repair him and so Roboto was frequently seen fighting alongside the other heroic warriors.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation tweaked Roboto’s backstory yet again. He’s still a sentient and intelligent robot who was built by Man-at-Arms, but in Revelation Roboto considers Duncan his father and Teela his sister and refers to them as such. He also heroically sacrifices his life yet again (heroically sacrificing himself seems to be what Roboto does) to reforge the Sword of Power in a scene that made me misty-eyed about a character I barely remembered from the original. And this time, Roboto isn’t repaired either, but permanently destroyed by the immense power discharge resulting from reforging the sword.

Duncan with Roboto and Teela

Proud papa: Duncan with Roboto and Teela

I probably wouldn’t have been all that keen on buying a Roboto action figure, if not for Masters of the Universe: Revelation. However, I liked him a lot in Revelation and besides, Roboto was the one member of the Man-at-Arms extended family I was still missing (except for Andra, of whom there is no figure at the right scale at the moment), so once I found one at a decent price (he’s quite difficult to find due to production and distribution issues), I of course snapped him up.

When I posed Roboto next to his family, I couldn’t help but wonder how Teela reacted, when her father decided to build himself a son. I imagine she wasn’t particularly happy about that, at least not at first. And indeed, in the 2002 cartoon Teela (who like Adam is younger and brattier in the 2002 version) repeatedly sends Roboto away when he wants to join her palace guards (cause for some reason, bratty sixteen-year-old Teela is still Captain of the Guard) and defend the palace and only comes to appreciate him, after he has heroically sacrificed himself to save Eternia.

So enjoy “Siblings”, a Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre story about Teela meeting her mechanical brother for the first time:

In Man-at-Arms’ workshop:

Man-at-Arms is tinkering on Roboto, while Fisto looks on.

“Roboto is my greatest invention yet, Malcolm. I created him as a training robot for Adam and Teela and then upgraded him into a chess opponent for Man-a-Faces. But now he has gained sentience and become a fully sentient and intelligent cybernetic lifeform.”

“First the Attak Trak, then Stridor and now Roboto. Do all of your inventions gain sentience, Duncan? And does this mean my first will start arguing with me eventually?”

“Maybe it will even punch you in the face, Malcolm. Cause you sure have it coming at times. There, Roboto. You should be able to get up now.”

Duncan still tinkers with Roboto as Fisto looks on.

“Thank you, Father. I seem to be working perfectly. You built me well.”

“He calls you ‘Father’? Cause that’s not creepy at all.”

“He simply started calling me ‘Father’ and I guess technically, it’s not wrong, because I did build him. Besides, part of me always wanted a son. As a young man I always assumed that if I had ever children, they’d be boys. When I first held Teela, I didn’t even know what to do with a baby girl…”

Duncan tinkers with Roboto, as Fisto looks on.“There. One last adjustment and you’re finished.”

“I am alive. Father, I am alive.”

“Yes, not creepy at all.”

Roboto meets Fisto as Duncan looks on.“Roboto, meet my brother Malcolm.”

“Hello, Uncle Malcolm. It is such a pleasure to meet you. I have never had an uncle before.”

“Good having another warrior with a steel fist… ahem, axe in the family. Nope, this is not creepy at all.”

Meanwhile…

Teela watches Roboto with Duncan and Fisto.“Great. I knew I’m not what Father wanted and that he would have preferred a boy, but that he’d go as far as build himself a perfect metal son, because I’m not good enough…”

“Ah, Teela. Come and meet your new brother.”

Roboto tries to shake hands with Teela, but Teela will have none of that.“Hello Sister. It is so great to finally meet you. Father has told me so much about you.”

“Let me get one thing straight: You are not my brother. And Father, if you wanted a son, could you at least have picked one from the gutter like you picked me. Or better yet, picked a boy from the gutter in the first place? But no, you had to build this… this thing.”

“Well done, Duncan, well done.”

“Teela, what on Eternia…?”

“I’m done, Father. Be happy with your perfect robot son!”

Teela storms off, while Adam, Duncan, Roboto and Fisto look after her.“Hi, Duncan, I… Teela, what’s wrong?”

“Ask my father… sniff.”

“Teela, wait… Oh no, she heard everything I said about wanting a son, didn’t she?”

“Every word, Brother, every word.”

Adam and Duncan look after Teela, while Fisto comforts Roboto

“Wait, it’s not what you think. What you heard was…”

“I’ve heard enough, Father.”

“I do not understand. Why does my sister not like me?”

“Don’t worry, Roboto, it’s got nothing to do with you and everything with my idiot of a brother.”

“Duncan, what’s wrong with Teela?”

“Sigh, she thinks I don’t love her and built Roboto to replace her.”

“But that’s not true… is it?”

“Of course not. I’ll go after her and try to explain.”

“No, I’ll go after Teela. After all, I have some experience with parents who think I’m a disappointment.”

In the palace garden…

Teela is sulking in the palace garden, while Adam looks on.

“It’s not fair. I tried so hard to become the child my father wanted and then he builds that… that thing to replace me.”

“Hey, Teela…”

“Adam, can you just… sniff… go away, please? I… I think I’d like to be alone…”

“Not a chance. I’m not leaving my best friend alone, when she needs a shoulder to cry on.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Yes, you are.”

Adam comforts Teela

“Listen, Teela, I know how you feel. After all, my Dad and I don’t always get along either and I know that I’m very much not the son he wanted.”

“But your father never tried to replace you with a robot.”

“Sometimes I wish he would. A robot double to stand beside the throne and look regal during all those boring state functions would be great. Especially since I don’t even get a chair. I just have to stand there and look regal. A mannequin could do that job.”

Adam hugs Teela.

“How is it that you always make me smile?”

“It’s my top secret superpower. But anyway, as someone who suddenly had a sister show up out of the blue, I know a thing or two about surprise siblings. And I know that you haven’t lost your father, but gained a brother.”

“Yes, but Adora is great. She’s amazing. I would be happy, if she were my sister. But Roboto…”

“Give him a chance. He may surprise you.”

“It’s not even Roboto I’m mad at. I mean, he’s a bunch of rivets and gears, so how could I be mad at him? It’s Dad I’m mad at – for making Roboto, because I couldn’t be the son he wanted.”

“You know that’s not true, Teela. Your Dad loves you… very much. Even if he wanted a son originally.”

“Could you just hold me, Adam?”

“Of course.”

“You know, sometimes I just want to get away from all of this madness.”

“That’s a great idea. Let’s away. Even if it’s only for a few hours.”

Teela gives instructions to a palace guard while Adam looks on.“Lieutenant, you’re in charge of palace security. Prince Adam and I are going to patrol the outer perimeter.”

“Again? I mean, yes, Captain.”

Roboto confronts Adam and Teela“Sister…”

“Oh no, not him.”

“I am sorry if I offended you. I want to be the best brother and the best warrior I can be.”

“Listen, Roboto, I really don’t want to talk to you right now.”

“I heard you are going to patrol the outer perimeter. I can come along and help. I am fully equipped for battle and my sensors…”

“No!”

“But I want to help.”

“Go away!”

“Look, pal, no offence, but this is not a good time. Teela and I want to be alone, if you know what I mean.”

Roboto sulks in the palace garden
“I do not understand. Why does no one like me? All I want to do is help, but my sister hates me, Prince Adam hates me, everybody hates me.”

“Don’t mind me. I’m just standing here, guarding the palace garden and soaking up some juicy gossip I’ll share in the guard barracks later on.”

She-Ra approaches Roboto

Yes, I know it’s She-Ra, but there is no Adora figure of the right scale and type, so She-Ra must play both roles.

“Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met. You must be Roboto, Duncan’s newest invention. I’m Adora.”

“Prince Adam’s twin sister. It is a pleasure to meet you, Princess Adora.”

“Just Adora. After all, we’re friends by proxy, since my brother and your sister are… ahem… best friends.”

“Do you mind if I ask you a question? Why does your brother not like me?”

“Adam not like you? Don’t be silly! Adam likes everybody. Well, maybe not Skeletor and Hordak, but everybody who’s not a supervillain. He’s the friendliest person I know.”

“But Prince Adam does not like me and my sister does not like me either. I offered to come along on their patrol of the outer perimeter, but Prince Adam and Teela sent me away.”

“Well, of course they did. You see, Adam and Teela are not really patrolling the outer perimeter. That’s just an excuse to sneak away and spend some alone time together to cuddle and… well, you know.”

“Oh, I understand. My Uncle Malcolm said that Prince Adam and Teela like to exchange physical intimacies.”

“Yes, they’re sneaking off to have sex. The entire palace knows. Well, I mean my parents don’t know and I’m not sure about Duncan, but everybody else knows. There even is a betting pool when we’ll have a royal wedding.”

Adora comforts Roboto
“Adora, can I ask you another question? Did your brother always like you?”

“Well, maybe not from the very start. After all, I shot him in the back the first time we met, back when I was still Force Captain Adora of the Evil Horde. But Adam always believed in me and told me that I didn’t need to be like Hordak and Shadow Weaver, that I could be better. And he always loved me and I love him.”

“Then why does my sister not like me?”

“Listen, Roboto, when I first came to Eternia, your sister did not like me either. Not because of anything I did, but because she was afraid that I would stand between her and Adam. But once she realised that I wasn’t going to take Adam away from her, we became good friends, almost like sisters.”

“I am not planning to exchange physical intimacies with Prince Adam, if that is what my sister is worried about. I am not even sure if that is physically possible.”

“Oh, I’m sure there’s an attachment for that. But this isn’t about Adam. It’s about your father.”

“Father? I don’t understand.”

“Teela is afraid that your father will love her less, now that he has you.”

“But that is not true. Father always talks about Teela, how much he loves her and how proud he is of her.”

“I know, but Teela doesn’t. Give her time, Roboto, and she’ll see that she hasn’t lost a father, but gained a brother.”

“Thank you, Adora. It is good to have at least one friend.”

Meanwhile, at the outer perimeter:

Adam and Teela are kissing in the wilderness.

“You were right, it was a great idea to get away from it all. No Prince Adam, no Captain of the Guard, no He-Man, just you and me.”

“You talk too much. Just kiss me again.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

Mer-Man, Beast-Man and Jitsu sneak up on Adam and Teela kissing.

“Looks like the Prince has his hands full.”

“And his pants down, snicker.”

“I wouldn’t mind some of that myself. That Teela is one hot babe.”

“Evil-Lyn is prettier. And now come on, let’s get them, boys.”

Mer-Man, Beast-Man and Jitsu attack Adam and Teela.“Hands up and lay down your weapons! You are now prisoners of Skeletor, Supreme Lord of Destruction.”

“We’re under attack. Adam, get behind me.”

“Not a chance. I can take care of myself. And I’m not leaving you to face them alone.”

Adam and Teela fight back to back against Skeletor's Evil Warriors

“Shit, two of these guys are a bit much for Prince Adam to handle. Must become He-Man. But I can’t transform here and I can’t leave Teela to face them alone.”

“Stand back, Beast-Man! Ahhhh!”

Teela is down and Adam raises his sword.“Teela, no! Okay, that’s it. By the Power of…”

TWAP!

Adam and Teela are down and surrounded by Evil Warriors

“Not so tough now, are they?”

“Shut up and help me get them back to Shake Mountain. Skeletor will be pleased.”

Skeletor and his evil warriors threaten Adam and Teela who are chained up.

“Listen, Randor, I’ve got your useless son and Duncan’s annoying daughter, too. If you, Duncan and He-Man don’t surrender to me, I will kill them both. And before I kills them, I’ll torture them until they beg for death.”

“This isn’t going to work Skeletor. My father thinks I’m a failure and he’s not going to negotiate with terrorists, least of all because of me. And He-Man isn’t going to show up either. I can assure you that.”

“And my father replaced me with a robot, so he’s not going to give in to your demands either.”

“Boss, can we play with them, just a little bit?”

“Yeah, and check if the Prince really has blue blood.”

“And what Teela is wearing under that outfit?”

“Enough. All right, where was I? Ah yes, torture. So who’s going to go first? The Prince or his plaything?”

“Take me and leave her alone.”

“Take me and leave him alone.”

“Such eagerness. Well, I’ll leave you to contemplate your fate amongst yourselves.”

Adam and Teela in chains.

“Looks like we’re screwed. My father can’t give in to Skeletor, even if he wanted to.”

“And my father replaced me with a robot.”

“And He-Man’s out of the picture, so it’s up to you and me.”

“Okay, I’ll create a diversion and you make a run for it.”

“No, I’m not leaving you here.”

Roboto, Duncan and Fisto look determined.

“My sister and Prince Adam captured and in the hands of Skeletor. This is all my fault.”

“No, it’s mine. But we’ll get them out.”

“Damn right, it is your fault, Duncan.”

“Do you have any helpful ideas, Malcolm? No? Then just shut the hell up!”

“If we go on a rescue mission, I want to come, too. I will rescue my sister.”

She-Ra, Roboto, Duncan and Fisto look determined.

“No, Roboto, we will rescue our siblings. So what’s the plan, Duncan?”

“Good to have you on board, She-Ra. What about you, Malcolm? You in?”

“You have to ask?”

She-Ra, Roboto, Duncan and Fisto come to rescue Adam and Teela.

“She-Ra, Roboto? Am I glad to see you guys.”

“Father, you came to rescue us?”

“Of course. I’d descend into Subternia itself to save my daughter.”

Roboto frees Adam and Teela from their chains, while She-Ra, Duncan and Fisto keep watch.

“Roboto, would you do the honours?”

“Of course, Father. Have no fear, Sister, I shall have you free in a minute.”

“Hurry up, cause here comes Skeletor.”

“All right, battle positions, everyone.”

“Catch, brother. Looks like it’s time for He-Man.”

“Can’t. Too crowded. Adam will have to do.”

The heroic warriors fight the evil warriors.

“So we meet again, Fisto.”

“Indeed we do, Jitsu, and you’ll get another arse whopping.”

“Put your filthy hands on my daughter again, Keldor, and I swear that this time I will kill you.”

“Pah, you don’t have the guts, Duncan. You never did and neither does Prince Useless here.”

“Leave my sister alone, you hairy horror!”

“Get out of my way, rust bucket!”

“Mer-Man, honestly? Of all the Evil Warriors, I get Mer-Man? Was Evil-Lyn busy or what?”

“Shut up and feel the kiss of my blade, She-Ra.”

Fisto punches out Jitsu, Duncan fights Beast-Man, She-Ra has beatne Mer-Man and Roboto protects Adam and Teela from Skeletor's havoc staff.

“Eat steel knuckles, shithead!”

“Get out of my way, Beast-Man. It’s your boss I want, not you.”

“So much for the great Mer-Man. Ugh, he stinks. Now who’s next?”

“Say good-bye to your daughter and Prince Adam, Duncan.”

“Leave my sister alone, fiend!”

BLAST! BOOM!

“Roboto, no!”

Fisto, Duncan, She-Ra, Teela and Adam stand around the fallen Roboto.

“No, Roboto. He… he jumped in fronht of Adam and me and shielded us from Skeletor’s blast. And now he’s…”

“I’m sorry, Teela, but we should get out of here, before Skeletor comes back.”

Later, in Duncan’s workshop:

Duncan tries to repair Roboto, while Fisto, She-Ra, Teela and Adam look on.“Can you fix him, Dad?”

“I don’t know. He absorbed the full power of Skeletor’s havoc staff.”

Adam comforts Teela, while Duncan tries to repair Roboto and Fisto and She-Ra look on.

“Oh Adam, Roboto saved us both and I was so mean to him. And now he’ll never know… sniff… that I’m sorry and that it’s an honour to be his sister.”

Roboto is feeling better and everybody is happy.

“You can tell him yourself, Teela.”

“Roboto, you’re alive!”

“Yes, Sister, I am alive. And I am glad that you like me now. You do like me, do you not?”

Teela hugs Roboto, while Fisto, Duncan, Adam and She-Ra look on.

“Of course, I love you, Roboto. You’re my brother, after all. And I’m sorry that I was so mean to you.”

“That is all right, Sister. Princess Adora explained everything.”

“She did`?”

“And you do not have to worry. I do not intend to take our father’s love away from you nor do I intend to exchange physical intimacies with Prince Adam.”

“Uhm, that’s comforting, I guess.”

“Well, that went better than expected, Duncan. But now you’ll have to excuse me, cause I need a drink after all that excitement.”

“I can prepare tea for us. Father has a very nice tea set.”

“Sorry, Roboto, but I think I need something a bit stronger this time.”

***

I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There’ll be more stories, including the promised She-Ra story, since the Evil Horde is actually beginning to resemble its name by now.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

Posted in Toy Photo Stories, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Obi-Wan Kenobi Goes On a Rescue Mission in Part IV

Here are my thoughts on the fourth episode of the Disney Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For my thoughts on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “Dinosaurs and Fists of Steel”

The next Star Trek Strange New Worlds and Obi-Wan Kenobi reviews are coming, but I had a stressful day, somewhat relieved by the mail person bringing me toys, so here is another short Master-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server.

The background is that in 1987, Mattel was planning to send He-Man back in time and produced three bionic dinosaurs for the Masters of the Universe figures to ride, including a triceratops called Bionatops. The dinosaurs were never made again in any of the later Masters of the Universe lines, but I had the idea that maybe a Schleich triceratops would work as well, so I ordered one and he (or she) arrived today. And even if the triceratops wouldn’t work for my Masters of the Universe figures, it’s still an awesome dinosaur and you can never have too many dinosaurs:

Schleich triceratops“Don’t mind me, I’m just grazing here and enjoying the grass and the flowers.”

The mail person also brought me Jitsu, a rather underdeveloped member of Skeletor’s Evil Warriors, who only appeared once in the 1980s Filmation cartoon and not at all in any of the subsequent cartoons, probably because he was portrayed very much as a racist stereotype in the Filmation cartoon, so no one wanted to tackle him in later incarnations. And yes, it’s depressing that the only Asian character in Masters of the Universe is an underdeveloped bad guy. Though come to think of it, there also was a ninja character who was even more underdeveloped.

That said, Jitsu does make a great action figure, so I put him next to my new triceratops.

Jitsu with a triceratops

“Ah, what a fearsome beast! I shall tame you and ride you to Snake Mountain to strike fear in the hearts of my enemies.”

“Eat shit and die, mammal.”

Jitsu is often considered Fisto’s archenemy, probably because they both have a prosthetic metal hand. So of course, I had to pit them against each other and this is what happened:

Jitsu versus Fisto, while Ram-Man and a triceratops look on.

“So we finally meet again, Fisto, my old enemy. And this time I shall vanquish you with my deadly steel chop.”

“Well, I’ve got a steel fist of my own.”

“But mine is shinier.”

“And mine is bigger.”

“I have a dinosaur.”

“And I have Ram-Man.”

“Actually, mammal, you don’t have a dinosaur. I just happened to be passing by, minding my own business, when you showed up.”

Fisto fights Jitsu, as Ram-Man and a triceratops look on.“Eat steel knuckles, Gold Boy.”

“Feel my golden chop.”

“Hey, that’s my boyfriend you’re beating up there.”

“Ah, the sweet smell of testosterone. Mammals, so predictable.”

Jitsu has knocked out Fisto and faces Ram-Man, while the triceratops wishes she were somewhere else.“Leave Fisto alone or I swear I’ll ram you into the ground.”

“Bring it on, Bucket Head!”

“Look, mammals, could you maybe do that somewhere else, cause I only wanted some peace and quiet in the sun?”

Ram-Man knocked out Jitsu, while Fisto and the triceratops look on.

“Take that, Gold Hand Dude.” Rammm!

“Oww, my head. Krass, what happened?”

“He knocked you out and then I knocked him out, Malcolm. But we won.”

“That’s it. I’m leaving and finding a quiet place far away from all of those brawling mammals.”

I did put a Masters of the Universe figure on the Schleich triceratops and it does work, though Fisto looks a bit like Lee Marvin’s drunken cowboy from Cat Ballou when riding the triceratops. Though as these picture show, the original 1987 Bionatops wasn’t all that big either.

Fisto rides the triceratops“I was born under a wand’rin’ star… la, la, la, la…”

“Shut up, mammal! Your voice is terrible and besides, that song isn’t even from Cat Ballou, but from Paint Your Wagon.”

“And what does a dinosaur know about music from movies released on another planet?”

“I’m a very culturally interested dinosaur. And besides, what does a grumpy and drunkard loser like you know about movies from another planet?”

“Queen Marlena holds regular movie nights at the royal palace. Krass and I always attend. Anyway, can’t you go any faster, boy. I’ll be late for dinner.”

“I’m not a boy, I’m a girl, idiot.”

“Well, can’t you go any faster, girl? I promise, I’ll give you a nice big lamb chop, when we get back to the palace.”

“I’m a herbivore, idiot.”

“Well, then I’ll give you a pot of potatoes. Or maybe carrots?”

“A big bowl of salad and we’re in business.”

“Okay, deal. I was born under a wand’rin’ star… la, la, la, la…”

“Oh, not again!”

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the.Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story. There’ll be more stories, including the already announced She-Ra story, since the Evil Horde has gained a few more members in the meantime.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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A Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Pride Month Special: “Fisto’s Significant Other”

I’m interrupting the steady stream of Star Trek Strange New Worlds and Obi-Wan Kenobi reviews for another Masters of the Universe action figure photo story. I was always planning to do more of these and I also posted a few on Twitter, but blog posts are less ephemeral.

The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server, by the way, based on the Masterpiece Theatre series of random British TV dramas presented by PBS in the US. I like the name and adopted it with thanks to Kevin.

Initially, I was going to continue the Secrets of Eternia series with a look at the backstory of She-Ra, He-Man’s long lost twin sister, but that was somewhat stymied by the fact that though I have a great She-Ra figure, the Evil Horde was rather anaemic to the point that Hordak had to borrow henchpeople from Skeletor.

So instead, you get a different story today. My photo story about the origins of Teela and particularly who her biological parents are ended with Fisto (whom the people behind the 2002 Masters of the Universe cartoon planned to reveal as Teela’s biological father for reasons best known to themselves) coming out as gay to his estranged brother Man-at-Arms. The fact that Fisto and Man-at-Arms are brothers was established in the 2002 cartoon. However, Fisto being gay is purely my head canon, because with a name like that, how can he not be?

“The Origin of Teela” story ended with Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms and Malcolm a.k.a. Fisto going for a drink. And here is a sequel, where we finally learn who Fisto’s significant other is:

Fisto and Man-at-Arms having tea

“Well, Duncan, when you said, let’s have a drink, I expected a tavern and beer, not… Wait a minute, is that mother’s prized tea set? I had no idea that thing still existed.”

“I kept it. For Teela, for when she gets married.”

“If that idiot Prince Adam ever gets a move on and pops the question, you mean?”

“He’s not an idiot. He’s just… shy.”

“Well, I doubt that the future Queen of Eternia needs mother’s old tea set, considering she’ll inherit a palace full of fine china and silverware. Besides, I don’t think Teela is the type for fancy tea sets anyway.”

Fisto and Man-at-Arms having tea

“You’re right. She’d only use it as target practice. Talking of which, I could have sworn there used to be more cups. Anyway, Malcolm, do you want tea? And some pastries maybe?”

“Actually, I want a beer, but since tea and pastries are all I get, I guess the answer is yes.”

Man-e-Faces interrupts Duncan and Fisto

“Anyway, you wanted to know if I have someone and the answer is yes and it’s…”

“Man-e-Faces.”

“What? No. Oh, hi Manny. Bad timing.”

“Am I interrupting anything?

“Yeah, you could say that.”

Duncan, Fisto and Man-e-Faces

“I won’t be long. I just wanted to let you know that I’m off for a few days to play Hamlet in Avion. You know, my real job, before I got drafted into this whole saving Eternia thing.”

Duncan, Fisto and Man-e-Faces

“Also, just because I’m an actor doesn’t mean I’m gay. Why do people always assume that? Does not compute. Anyway, I’m off. See you in five days. Nice tea set, by the way.”

“All right, so where were we? Oh yes, you wanted to know if I have someone and the answer is yes I do and it’s Ram-Man.”

Fisto, Ram-Man and Man-at-Arms

“Hi boss. Yup, Malcolm and I are together. Hope you don’t mind. Nice tea set, by the way. Oh, pastries. Munch, munch.”

“Sure, help yourself. Why not? After all, you’re apparently part of the family now.”

Adam and Teela walk in on Duncan, Fisto and Ram-Man

“Hi, Dad, Uncle Malcolm, Rammy. Did we miss a tactics meeting? Anyway, Adam and I are going to borrow the Wind Raider, if you don’t mind, Dad. We’re going to… uhm… patrol the outer perimeter.”

Teela puts her hand over Adam's mouth.

“Hey, Teela, isn’t that the ugly tea set that we… mumble.”

“Shush! Dad is really weird about that tea set. If he finds out that we broke some of the cups…”

Man-at-Arms throws a sceptical look at Adam and Teela

“Do you two have anything to say for yourselves? For example, why two cups of your grandmother’s prized tea set went missing?”

“Uhm…”

“I’m waiting, young lady.”

“Ahem, actually, I have something to say. I’m gay and Ram-Man and I are together.”

Adam shakes hands with Ram-Man and Fisto, while Teela and Man-at-Arms look on.“Hey, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for both of you.”

“Thanks for covering for us, Uncle.”

“No problem. I know how weird your father is about that tea set.”

“Anyway, Dad, we’re off to… ahem… patrol the outer perimeter.”

“See you later, Duncan. Oh pastries! You don’t mind, if we take some, do you? The outer perimeter is very far out.”

“Sure, take my pastries. Why not? It’s not as if I ever get any of my own cake.”

Fisto and Ram-Man holding hands

“Well, all things considered that didn’t go too badly. I mean, your brother wasn’t mad at us and that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Plus, we got pastries”

“Duncan only isn’t mad because he was too busy worrying about Mom’s old tea set. Though I have to say ‘patrolling the outer perimeter’ is a great excuse. I wish we would have thought of that one.”

“You mean, Adam and Teela are not…?”

“Trust me, the only perimeters those two are patrolling are each other’s bodies.”

Adam and Teela leaning against a Wind Raider and kissing

Patrolling the outer perimeter.

“Hmm, those pastries are really good. And Fisto and Rammy are an item. That’s… unexpected. I mean I had no idea. Did you?”

“No, but I’m happy for them. Dad always says that Uncle Malcolm needs someone to look after him and now he has someone. Plus, they no longer have to hide, neither from Dad nor from anybody else.”

“So… uhm… do you think we should tell our parents? About us, I mean?”

“Oh dear, Dad would give me the birds and the bees lecture. The one he obviously ignored or I wouldn’t exist.”

“Come to think of it, Duncan would probably kill me. And I’m no match for him as Adam.”

“Dad would never kill you. He loves you. You’re the son I failed to be. But I suspect your parents wouldn’t be too happy. They probably wanted someone else for you. Someone with a royal title like those pink and pretty princesses your sister always hangs out with.”

“Don’t say that! My parents love you. Dad’s always going, ‘Why can’t you be more like Teela, son?’ But if we told them, Mom would start making wedding plans and Dad would drop hints about grandchildren and preserving the royal lineage.”

“That’s scary.”

“So we don’t tell them? At least not yet.”

“No, it’s wonderful as it is and I… well, I don’t want to jinx it.”

“You know, we could just elope. Find a priest and a temple in some village, get married and then tell our families. No pressure, no party, no big ceremony, just you and me.”

“Come on, Adam, you’re being silly. And now kiss me.”

***

As for how Ram-Man ended up becoming Fisto’s significant other, the initial spark was this tweet by John Chu

So I put the Fisto and Ram-Man figures next to each other and they made a cute couple. Besides in the 2002 He-Man cartoon (the same one which retconned Fisto into Man-at-Arms’ brother), Ram-Man is very protective of Teela, second only to Duncan and Adam. So it makes sense, if they were family of sorts.

The tea set was a lucky accident. For while I didn’t have a miniature mug or beer jug for Man-at-Arms and Fisto to share a drink, I remembered that I had a miniature tea set, which is exactly at the right scale. So I used the tea set and the story became much funnier as a result. The bit that Man-at-Arms doesn’t get to eat any of his own pastries is a reference to the time he won the 2021 Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award and didn’t get a single slice of Martha Kent’s famous apple pie, which serves as a trophy.

Unfortunately, the male figures are too bulky to get them to hug or kiss each other (and Ram-Man is extra bulky), but they can hold hands and look deep into each other’s eyes. Though it does work with Adam and Teela, as you can see.

The Adam and Teela coda wasn’t part of the original Twitter thread. However, I realised that “patrolling the outer perimeter” sounds an awful lot like an excuse to sneak away for some private time together. Especically since this episode of the original cartoon shows that the bedroom arrangements in the royal palace make nightly visits nigh impossible, because Adam or Teela would have to sneak past both their respective parents and Cringer, too (bonus Man-at-Arms without his helmet, Randor and Marlena in 1950s TV appropriate separate beds and Teela in a sexy pink nightgown). So if Adam and Teela want to spend some qaulity time together, they’d have to leave the palace. And yes, I do have a Wind Raider.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the.Universe-Piece Theatre Pride Month Special. There’ll be more stories, including the already announced She-Ra story, since the Evil Horde has now gained a few more members.

As a bonus, here is Man-e-Faces, who has always been protrayed as an actor turned heroic defender of Eternia, performing Hamlet, specifically, act V, scene 1.

Man-e-Face holds Skeletor's skull, performing Hamlet

Alas, poor Keldor! I knew him, He-Man: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it.

Man-e-Faces performing Hamlet while holding Skeletor's skull

Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Man-e-Faces holds Skeletor's skull and performs Hamlet

Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners. Also, apologies to William Shakespeare.

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds meets the “Ghosts of Illyria” and uncovers some dark secrets of the crew

It’s time for the next Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review. Reviews of previous episodes (well, just two so far) may be found here.

Warning: Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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Road Trip with Jedi and Princess: Some Thoughts on Part III of Obi-Wan Kenobi

Here are my thoughts on the third episode of the Disney Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For thoughts on previous episodes (well, there only are two), go here.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut! Continue reading

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A Trio of Links: Vintage Crime Fiction, 1960s Protests and New Sword and Sorcery

The next Obi-Wan Kenobi and Star Trek reviews are coming, but first of all, here are some links to new work by me that may be found elsewhere:

The Drink Tank Issue No. 439

To begin with, issue 439 of the fanzine The Drink Tank has just come out. The theme of this issue is crime fiction before 1950 and I have an article in it about Harald Harst, a forgotten Weimar Republic era pulp detective. You can also read articles by Christopher J. Garcia, Julian West and Ian Nicholas about topics as varied as Sherlock Holmes, J.G. Reeder or the Moon Man. There is a noir title generator as well.

So what are you waiting for? Download the issue here and start reading.

Yesterday, I was also over at Galactic Journey again with an article about the protests against the visit of the Shah of Iran to West Berlin and the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg in 1967. This was the moment where the peace and love sixties turned violent in (West) Germany and would have reverberations into the 1970s and beyond. It’s also a truly horrifying story, even more horrifying than I knew.

Content warning for photos and descriptions of police violence as well as a photo of a body, because you can’t write about the murder Benno Ohnesorg without the iconic photo of him dying in a West Berlin backyard.

Whetstone Magazine of Sword and Sorcery No. 5Finally, I also have a story out in issue 5 of Whetstone Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery.  It’s called “Village of the Unavenged Dead” and is a dark story about a cruel emperor, a vengeful necromancer and a spooky village.

You’ll also find new sword and sorcery stories by G.T. Wilcox, Michael Burke, George Jacobs, Dariel Quiogue, T.A. Markitan, Robert O’Leary, Charles Dooley, Jason M. Waltz, Gregory D. Mele, H.R. Laurence, Anthony Perconti, Chuck Clark, Nathaniel Webb, Patrick Groleau, J. Thomas Howard, B. Harlan Crawford, Rev. Joe Kelly, Rett Weissenfels and Scott Oden and an evocative cover by Jake Kelly in this issue. If you’re interested in what the sword and sorcery genre looks like today, you could do worse than check out Whetstone. Best of all, it’s 100% free.

So what are you waiting for? Download issue 5 of Whetstone right here.

ETA: J. Thomas Howard shares a lovely review of issue 5 of Whetstone, just in case you needed an additional incentive to download it.

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Beast from the Sea of Blood

The Beast from the Sea of Blood by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertWelcome to the June 2022 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

June is the first month of summer, so here is The Beast from the Sea of Blood, a summery sword and sorcery story of a trip to the seaside, a crab boil on the beach… and a monster.

So accompany Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha as they face…

The Beast from the Sea of Blood

From the ocean called the Sea of Blood for its red waters the colour of freshly shed blood rose a small rocky island. Nothing and no one lived here except for a colony of noisy seagulls and some crabs, which scuttled across a narrow strip of sandy beach. This was the Desolate Isle, a place avoided by sailors far and wide, because it was believed to be cursed. At least, that’s what old Danvalk said. But then Danvalk would believe his own bed was cursed, should he happen to fall out of it in a drunken stupor.

Thurvok the sellsword, on the other hand, did not believe in curses. But nonetheless, the red waves, so very much like the fresh blood sprouting from an enemy’s cut throat, unnerved him. As a son of the Eastern steppes, he did not much care for the sea in general. Any body of water larger than a well, a puddle or bathing pond tended to make him nervous. But the Sea of Blood with its eerie gory colouring made him even more nervous. Water should simply not be that colour and only the cannibals of Grokh bathed in fresh blood.

Nonetheless, he was stuck here for the time being. For the Mermaid’s Scorn, a small fishing sloop that Thurvok and his friends had purchased from the one-legged sailor Danvalk, sole survivor of an ill-fated expedition to the lost city of Nhom’zonac, had run aground on the sands just off the Desolate Isle. Until the tide rolled in, she would not sail again. At least, that’s what Sharenna had said and she prided herself in her knowledge of the sea. Even though she had run the Mermaid’s Scorn aground, come to think of it.

Worse, the quest that had brought them here, a great pirate treasure supposedly hidden among the seagull nests, had proven to be a bust. Thurvok’s friend and companion Meldom — thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin — had gotten the story of the treasure from an old acquaintance, who’d claimed that he’d been right there, when it was hidden.

“Well, if the treasure really is so great, why doesn’t he get it himself then?” Thurvok had asked.

Meldom had no answer to that, probably because there was none.

Not that it mattered much. For as usual, Thurvok’s objections had been overridden. For Meldom had never heard a rumour of a treasure he did not want to go chasing after. His lover Lysha inevitably sided with him and besides, she was forever concerned about replenishing their dwindling funds. And the sorceress Sharenna, who would normally have been the voice of reason, liked feeling the sea wind in her hair a little too much. And so Thurvok was outvoted and the quartet set sail for the Desolate Isle. Only old Danvalk, whom the foursome occasionally took along on their quests to take advantage of his sailing skills, flat out refused to come.

“I’m not setting a foot, let alone two, on the Desolate Isle,” Danvalk had insisted, “That place is cursed. Cursed, I’m telling you, and beset by monsters and evil powers.”

Of course, Danvalk only had one foot left — as Meldom was about to point out, when a jab from Lysha silenced him. Nonetheless, the old sailor had a point. For there was something very off about the Sea of Blood and the lone rocky island that rose from its waters.

As soon as the quartet reached the blood-red waters, things started to go wrong. The wind became erratic, alternating between eerie calm and violent gusts. And then, when they reached the Desolate Isle, the Mermaid’s Scorn had run aground. Meldom and Sharenna were still arguing about whose fault that was.

But whoever was to blame, they were all stuck here until the tide rolled in, which should happen in approximately eight hours. And so Thurvok and Meldom had busied themselves scaling the slippery rocks to look for the legendary pirate treasure. They found lots of seagull nests and even more seagull shit. What they did not find, however, was even a hint of any treasure.

“All this bother and nothing to show for it,” Thurvok grunted as he and Meldom sat side by side on top of the highest rocks looking out across the tiny island and the bloody sea roiling all around as far as the eye could see.

“Maybe the seagulls ate the treasure,” Meldom mused, “After all, they seem to eat everything else.”

“And shit it out again,” Thurvok added, “No, if there was a treasure here buried in a pile of bird shit, we would have found it.” He sighed. “This whole expedition has been a waste of time.”

“Would you rather sit in The Rusty Nail in Neamene and drink yourself into a stupor?” Meldom countered.

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

Meldom shook his head. “Some adventurer you are.”

“Better a happy, well fed and drunk adventurer, then hungry, thirsty and shipwrecked.”

Meldom rolled his eyes. “Oh please, you make it sound as if we’ll be marooned here forever. It’s only eight hours…” He looked up at the sun, which had sunk further towards the west, and mentally calculated. “…more like five now. And we do have provisions, so it’s not as if we’ll die of hunger or thirst.”

“Yeah, stale bread and water,” Thurvok grunted, “As if we were prisoners languishing in a dungeon.”

“I wanted to take along some salted herrings for variety,” Meldom said, “But you said you’d rather die than eat another salted herring.”

“It’s not natural for a man to eat so much fish,” Thurvok said.

“That’s just because you’re from the Eastern steppes where fish are as rare as ice beasts, dragons and pots of gold. In the coastal cities, it’s perfectly normal to enjoy the bounty of the sea.”

Even an encounter with a dragon would be preferable to being marooned on this forsaken rock in a Sea of Blood, Thurvok thought, though he did not say so out loud.

Meldom, meanwhile, spotted an ivory gleam among the mounts of bird shit. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt — black, like the rest of his attire — wrinkled his nose and reached into the pile of shit.

He held the object aloft. “Look at what I found.”

Thurvok looked and shrank back at once with such force that he almost toppled from the rock down to the beach below.

“By the crown of Kresgumm…” he exclaimed.

For the object in Meldom’s hand was not a jewel or a gold doubloon, but a skull. A grinning skull with bird shit sticking between its teeth and dripping out of its eye sockets.

“What’s your problem?” Meldom wanted to know, “This is good news. It means that someone has been here before.”

“Yes, and look what happened to him.” Thurvok scratched his chin in confusion, because he had no real way of knowing what gender the owner of the skull had been. “Her? Them?”

“It probably belonged to one of the pirates who buried the treasure,” Meldom mused.

“Or to another treasure hunter. Or just a hapless shipwrecked sailor.”

“Maybe…” Meldom waved the skull about to shoo away one of the ever-present seagulls. “…a bird ate him.”

“Whatever ate that poor soul…” Thurvok said darkly, “…was a lot bigger than a bird.”

He did his best to ignore the skull in Meldom’s hand and how it was staring at him with its hollow, bird shit dripping eyes.

So instead, he looked down at the beach, where Sharenna and Lysha were skipping across the sand and scrambling between the rocks by the sea. Occasionally, they bent down to pick up something from among the rocks and put it into bucket.

“What are the girls doing down there?” Thurvok wondered.

Meldom shrugged. “Gathering firewood maybe.”

“With a bucket?”

“Why not?”

As if to prove him right, Lysha walked past at just this moment with an armful of dry driftwood, which she began to build into a campfire. Sharenna followed, lugging the bucket.

“Come on down,” she called up at them, “Lysha and I have gathered crabs and mussels for a seafood boil.”

Thurvok wasn’t entirely sure what a seafood boil was, though crabs and mussels didn’t sound particularly appetising. And anyway, what was wrong with plain old meat? Though he figured that even crabs and mussels were better than stale bread and plain water.

Though he was lithely built, Meldom was perpetually hungry. And so the promise of food — even food as unenticing as boiled crabs and mussels — made him to stuff the skull into his bag and begin to scramble down the rock.

With a grunt, Thurvok followed. Though in the end, Thurvok reached the beach before Meldom, who’d been shat upon by a seagull halfway down.

On the beach, Lysha had gotten a good fire going, while Sharenna was bent over the bucket, adding some herbs and oil from her bag.

“You’re not trying to magick us, are you?”

Sharenna rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Herbs and oil are good for both magic and cooking. The only thing that differs is the recipe.”

Thurvok peered into the bucket. A crab peered back at him with black beady eyes and menacingly clicked its pincers.

“Crap, those things are still alive.”

“Of course,” Sharenna replied and took the bucket away to fill it up with water, the eerie blood red water of the sea, “If they were dead, we couldn’t eat them, because they’d have gone off already.”

“I’m not eating live crabs,” Thurvok grunted.

“Don’t worry.” Sharenna hung the bucket with the scrambling, clawing, living crabs over the fire. “By the time dinner’s ready, they won’t be. Even crabs can’t survive boiling water.”

At this moment, Meldom appeared, cursing and brushing at a stain of white-grey seagull shit, which now adorned his jerkin, black like the rest of his garb.

“I’ll never get this out of the fabric again,” he lamented and shook his fist at the seagulls circling overhead.

“Just let it dry and brush it off,” Sharenna said.

“That’ll still leave a stain,” Meldom replied.

“Yes, but you can wash it out with saltwater and vinegar,” Lysha said. When Meldom shot her a curious look, she added, “Oh please, I’m the daughter of a silk merchant. I know a thing or two about removing stains from fabric.”

***

The wind had picked up again and was blowing in cold from the sea, so cold that the four adventurers huddled around the campfire, which was blazing away merrily. The bucket had been hung over the fire and occasionally, Meldom or Sharenna reached out with a stick to shove a crab trying to escape the boiling inferno back into the pot.

Thurvok did not touch the bucket or the crabs. Those scuttling, skittering, clicking things with their beady black eyes freaked him out. There was something unnatural about them.

“So did you find anything?” Lysha wanted to know.

“No treasure, unfortunately,” Meldom said, though he seemed remarkably unbothered by the fact that this whole quest had been for naught. “But we found this.”

He opened his bag and pulled out the skull.

Lysha emitted a little squeak, much to Meldom’s amusement. Sharenna frowned.

“Where did you find that?”

“Up yonder among the seagull nests,” Thurvok replied.

“And the seagull shit,” Meldom added.

Sharenna still frowned. “Could you give that to me?”

“What do you want with that?” Thurvok wanted to know, “It’s all dirty and full of bird shit.”

Meldom’s grey eyes went wide, while his already pale complexion turned a shade paler. “You’re not going to reanimate it, are you?

“Why not?” Sharenna countered, “If there really is a treasure hidden here, the skull might know where it is.”

As a sorceress, Sharenna occasionally engaged in a spot of necromancy, though only in emergencies. And unpleasant as being stuck on an island in the middle of a blood red sea with not a single copper penny to show for it was, Thurvok was not entirely sure if it constituted an emergency.

“I thought you needed whole bodies to reanimate,” he pointed out.

“Oh, it works just as well with parts, though normally there isn’t much of a point to reanimating a severed limb or a headless body. After all, it’s not as if they can do much or tell you anything. A skull, on the other hand…”

“Try it!” Meldom all but shoved the skull at her.

“All right.” Sharenna accepted the skull, wrinkling her nose at the bird shit that was still clinging to the bone. She held the skull between her hands and her expression grew blank and distant, as she called up her magic.

Sharenna closed her eyes. Abruptly, the skull’s jaw dropped, as its mouth opened.

“Beware,” the skull said, its voice grating and hollow, like something from the depths of the underworld, “Beware the Beast from the Sea of Blood. Or it will take you, as it took me. Snapped me in half and left me lying on the beach, my bones to be picked clean by the gulls.”

The skull’s mouth closed. At the same instant, Sharenna opened her eyes and dropped the skull as if it were made of red hot iron. The skull rolled into the campfire and lay there, as the flames ignited the bird shit and licked out of the hollow eye socket.

Sharenna seemed troubled, so Thurvok quickly put his arm around her, pulling her close.

“Are you all right?”

Sharenna nodded weakly. “I just need a moment.”

Meldom reached out with a stick to pull the skull out of the fire and cursed, as the stick caught fire as well.

“Now that was ominous,” he announced, “And utterly unhelpful. Nothing about a treasure, just some blather about how the seagulls picked clean his — or her — bones. As if it wasn’t bloody obvious that that was what happened.”

“Don’t forget the beast,” Thurvok pointed out, “It also talked of a beast.”

“Yes, the beast from the sea of blood. And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

“I for one am not keen to find out,” Thurvok said.

“I just wonder how that skull could talk at all,” Lysha wondered, “After all, it neither has a tongue nor vocal cords.” She cast a doubtful glance at the skull and the flames that enveloped it. “At least, I think it doesn’t.”

Meldom scowled. “No matter how the skull managed to talk, I still think he — she — could have been more precise. I mean, is this beast a sea serpent, a mermaid, an oversized fish, a creature like the monstrous guardian of the lost city of… well, you know what I mean?”

“Does it matter?” Thurvok countered, “It’s a beast and it killed this poor soul. Does it really matter what manner of creature it is?”

“As matter of fact, yes. If we knew what it is, we would have some idea how to fight it? But a beast could be anything, even those blasted seagulls. After all, their shit truly is beastly.” Meldom futilely began to rub at the stain on his jerkin again.

“It’s not a seagull,” Sharenna said suddenly, “But something much bigger and much more dangerous. I couldn’t see it, because he couldn’t, but I felt his fear and his desperation, as he tried to climb the rocks to save himself. But he wasn’t fast enough and so the best got him.”

“How do you know all that?” Thurvok asked.

The flickering firelight illuminated Sharenna’s face and suddenly she looked very witchy indeed. “Sometimes…” she began, “…when I reanimate a body, I get an impression of their final moments. This is what I got from him. And yes, it was a man. A sailor. I could see that very clearly.”

“Did you get anything about a treasure?” Meldom asked, single-minded as always.

Sharenna shook her head. “No, only his final moments. And they didn’t involve a treasure, just fear, terror and an unseen monster.”

“So what do we do now?” Lysha wanted to know, “About the monster, I mean?”

“I don’t think there is much we can do,” Sharenna replied, “Except wait for the tide to roll in, so we can take the Mermaid’s Scorn and get out of here. But until then…”

She peered into bucket and stirred it with a stick, pointedly ignoring the flaming skull at her feet.

“…dinner is ready.”

***

Sharenna emptied the bucket and all four of them cracked open the crabs and mussels to get at the soft flesh within. And even Thurvok, who was deeply suspicious of the sea and anything connected with it had to admit that the food was good.

Meldom waded over to the Mermaid’s Scorn and brought back a jug of rum, which they shared around the fire, while the sun slowly sank towards the western horizon.

“How much longer?” Thurvok asked, keeping a wary eye on his surroundings, just in case this beast the skull had mentioned decided to put in an appearance after all.

“Not long now,” Meldom promised, “The water is already coming back. Another hour or so and the Mermaid’s Scorn will sail again.”

Thurvok looked at the sun, which was already very close to the horizon, painting the Sea of Blood even redder.

“In an hour it will be almost dark,” he said, “Can we even make it back to Neamene in the dark?”

“Of course, we can,” Sharenna replied, “After all, the fisherman go out to sea by night. And if they can navigate in the dark, then so can we.”

Thurvok was about the point out that Sharenna’s and Meldom’s navigation skills were what had caused the Mermaid’s Scorn to run aground in the first place, but then he thought the better of it. He knew a lost argument, when he saw one.

And besides, his stomach was full, the rum was warming his chilly limbs and even his worries about the skull’s ominous pronouncements were slowly fading. In fact, Thurvok felt as comfortable as he had ever since they set out for the Desolate Isle. But as always, when life was going well, it could not last.

Meldom heard it first, a clicking, scuttling sound blowing in from the sea with the wind.

“Please not a storm, please not a storm,” he muttered to himself and turned towards the sound. “What in the name of the Seven Gods of Grayvault,” he exclaimed.

For from the Sea of Blood, halfway to the horizon and further out than the Mermaid’s Scorn, rose a rock where there hadn’t been one before.

“Maybe the tide uncovered it,” Thurvok suggested.

“When it recedes maybe,” Meldom countered. His hand reached for the sheathed dagger at his waist, “But the tide is rising.”

And then the rock ended all speculations, when it began to move, move inexorably towards the shore.

They all jumped to their feet, the fire and the rum forgotten. Thurvok drew his word. Meldom pushed Lysha behind him and drew his dagger. Sharenna stood between them, outwardly calm, but the slight glow around her hands showed that she was calling up her magic.

The thing grew ever bigger as it approached the island. By now, Thurvok could make out details. Eight scuttling legs. Two black beady eyes the size of a baby’s head. And two clicking pincers big enough to snap a man clean in half.

“This would be the beast then,” Sharenna said.

“Uhm, folks, I think it’s angry that we ate its brethren,” Lysha whispered and reached for the slingshot she used for defence.

Meldom sheathed his dagger, for it was clearly no good against a creature of this size, and drew his own slingshot.

And still the giant crab scuttled towards the beach, pincers clicking menacingly. Meldom and Lysha fired their slingshots and pelted it with pebbles and seashells, which did not even slow the thing down.

Thurvok rushed to meet the creature in the lapping water, his mighty sword raised high above his head. He swung his blade in a mighty blow that would have taken a man’s head clean off. But the blade glanced harmlessly off the creature’s shell, while the backlash knocked Thurvok off his feet and into the wet sand.

The beast was almost upon him now, but Thurvok managed to scramble to his feet just in time. He changed tactics and stabbed at the thing, again and again, hoping to find some weak spot. But the point of his sword could not pierce the monster’s sturdy shell and so he only succeeded in annoying the creature. The crab swung one of its pincers towards Thurvok, snapping madly, and only a quick roll to the side saved him from decapitation.

He got to his feet again and swung his sword, this time aiming low at the legs. But once more, it was to no avail. There was no way to stop this creature, no way to even slow it down. All four of them would end like the poor fellow whose skull Meldom had found among the rocks, snapped in half, their bones picked clean by seagulls.

“Get back,” Sharenna cried out, “Its armour is too strong. Your blade can’t hurt it.” She called up a fireball in her hands. “But my magic can.”

Once Thurvok had rolled clear, Sharenna hurled her fireball at the critter. It missed the massive armoured body and landed in the water at its feet instead, exploding in a hiss of steam.

“You missed,” Thurvok called out.

“No, I didn’t.” Sharenna hurled another fireball at the thing’s feet. It hit the water with a hiss and bathed the thing in steam. “I’m boiling the crab.”

After the third fireball, the crab screeched in pain, while the steam and the hot water slowly turned its shell a bright fiery red. But it took another five fireballs, until the thing finally collapsed into the shallow water, quite dead. Waves crashed onto the sand, drenching their shoes and the hems of their clothes.

Sharenna swayed and would have fallen, if Thurvok had not caught her by the waist. Using her magic always took a lot out of her and taking down the giant crab had required some mighty magic.

“Uhm, guys…” Lysha pointed at the horizon, where two more rocks, which had not been there before, had appeared, while the wind blew a scuttling, clicking sound towards the beach, a sound that was getting steadily louder.

“I’d suggest we’d better get back to the ship and away from here fast,” Meldom said, “Before more of those things show up.”

“Can the ship even sail again?” Thurvok wanted to know.

“It’ll have to, unless we want to be crab fodder.”

“And what if we can’t get free?” Lysha asked.

“Then Thurvok will have to get out and push.”

So they all raced for the Mermaid’s Scorn. Meldom and Lysha dashed ahead to unfurl the sails, though Meldom thought to grab the jug of rum first. Thurvok picked up Sharenna, who was still too weak to run, and carried her on board. He set her down against the stern railing and gripped the tiller, following Sharenna’s directions. For unlike Thurvok, Sharenna knew a little about the sea and sailing.

As the Mermaid’s Scorn sped away from the Desolate Isle, Thurvok looked back and saw two giant crabs launching themselves at their fallen comrade, while more of creatures rose from the sea. Seagulls circled overhead.

It was only when they were well away from the Desolate Isle and its monstrous inhabitants and had reached the area where the blood-red sea turned into regular blue-green again — or would, if night hadn’t fallen in the meantime, turning the water to ink — that they dared to relax.

Thurvok fastened the tiller with a rope and Meldom evenly divided the last of the rum between four cups.

“Well, we did not find the treasure, but that was certainly an adventure,” he said, “And it will make a grand tale to tell at The Rusty Nail or any other harbour bar in Neamene.”

“So more gullible folks will come here in search of treasure and night have their heads snapped off,” Thurvok grumbled.

“Well, that’s their choice, isn’t it? After all, it’s not as if we’re going to pretend that we found the treasure.”

“Maybe we should,” Lysha pointed out, “To discourage other adventures and make sure they won’t get eaten by the monster crabs.”

Meldom laughed. “That won’t work. Cause don’t you know that rumours of treasures found always draw more treasure seekers.”

“Well, you should know,” Thurvok said, “After all, there was never a rumour about a treasure that you did not follow up on. Even though all it ever got us was vengeful corpses, crazed cultists, tentacled monsters and now giant crabs.”

“And bird shit,” Meldom said, still rubbing at the stain on his jerkin, “Don’t forget the bird shit.”

“Oh, stop complaining,” Sharenna, who was largely recovered by now, said, “At least be grateful that it was a regular sized seagull and not a monster-sized one.”

Thurvok lifted his cup. “I’ll drink to that.”

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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