Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

October 17, 2012

Spirit Showdown #2: The Monster

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but I used to think that I was some pretty hot stuff back in the day.  I was young (well, younger), I was excited, and I figured as long as I had a few meager ideas and some fighting spirit, I could become the greatest writer the world had ever seen.  It certainly helped that I actually started writing proto-versions of my stories -- stories that I’ve long since buried somewhere in the annals of my room and hope to never read again.  I know where they are, but I won’t say where -- you never know who’s reading your stuff online and might decide to storm your house for the sole purpose of exposing your embarrassing neophyte-bred material for all the world to see in an earnest effort to defame you before you can begin your long-imagined journey into the heroic pantheon of ages.  Or, you know, just laugh at you.

Anyway, I remember a time when I was at a friend’s birthday party, and I was talking with his sister -- a girl my age, and another close friend.  By then, I’d come up with five potential stories (proto-proto-versions, so you just KNOW they were high-quality), and saw fit to brag about them a bit.  But of course, I wasn’t quite satisfied.  I’d been dreaming up a sixth one, based on a certain inequality I’d perceived.  All of the leading heroes were male.  So I boasted that I had aims to make a sixth story starring a cool heroine, in spite of having little more to say than that…or that I was formulating the heroine’s design based on Soulcalibur II’s version of Sophitia.  It’ll be easy, I told myself in the midst of my grandstanding.  I’m smart enough -- writing a strong female character will be as easy as [insert whatever activity was common/popular at the time here]!

I mention this because in the near-decade since that party, no other character has changed as much as this next one.  And it’s extremely likely that she’ll change again before I even type her first words.  But for now, I’m in a good (or good enough) place with her. 

There’s just one tiny problem.  She’s a bit…extreme.

You know, I just realized something.
What is it?  Something good, I hope.

Yeah.  I just realized that your art and video editing is not nearly good enough for all the hype you're trying to build.
This stuff takes like six hours at a time to make, man.  Cut me some freakin’ slack.

I’m just saying, you shouldn’t put anything up if it’s not good.
But if that was the case, the internet would be a whole lot emptier.  So it’s all good, right?

Fair enough.  So, I’m guessing you’re about ready to get started?
You know me well.

Then sell this lady in ten words.
A strong heroine -- even if it’s by brute force.

You’re being cryptic and ominous today.
To be honest, it’s because I’m more than a little nervous.  I mean, think about it.  I’m a guy writing about a woman, which can be troublesome in and of itself.  And…well, you saw her, didn’t you?  Can you imagine the judgments if she ever appeared on the cover of a book?  It would be like judging a book by its cover! 

Haven’t you already talked about that kind of thing several times before?  And hasn’t the response generally been “don’t worry about it” and “just write a good character”?
Well, yeah, but still…assuming that this thing gets written and other people read it, they’re not going to be as receptive, or even know that I mean well.  Just look at the DOA series -- there’s actually more going on than improbably buxom women in swimsuits, but that’s all it’ll ever be known for.

That was an image created by the developers’ choices and bumbling.  You know as well as I do that you’re not in the same camp.
Be that as it may, I still feel a little nervous.  And it certainly doesn’t help that she takes more inspiration from DOA’s Tina Armstrong than Sophitia now.

Then let’s hear your design philosophy -- try and prove your case.
If you insist…

Like I said before, Ursa’s original design (or should I say “Mel”, because that was her original name) was based on Sophitia -- and as you may know, the SC swordswoman isn’t doing so bad herself. 

So in a sense, eye-opening proportions and less-than-modest attire were always a part of Ursa’s/Mel’s design.  It’s not always a design philosophy that garners respect (see Shahdee from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within), but at the very least it makes them visually distinct, which as a writer and gamer I value highly.  And again, I wasn’t just going to be doing it for fanservice -- she was going to, and WILL, have a backstory, a personality, character development, the works.  Naysayers would just have to deal with it, and warm up to her by virtue of her thoughts and actions, not her looks.  Neutral readers would find plenty to love about her.  And of course, those that DO act solely on appearances would be able to see more to her than just a hefty chest.

But I still wasn’t satisfied with her in the least.  I’ve probably gone through a dozen permutations of this character -- physical as well as mental changes, to say nothing of the backstory shifts, abilities, and even whether she was a human or demon.  Hell, at one point she was an all-out goddess.  So to say I’ve put some thought into her (and her story at large) would be an understatement.

And yet…if I strung all her versions together -- if I even remembered them all -- I’d probably find one common thread amongst them all, more so than her measurements:  she’s always been tall.  Sometimes it was a plot point.  Sometimes it wasn’t.  Sometimes it was a byproduct of her nature.  Sometimes it wasn’t.  Sometimes it was a difference of a few inches between the next-tallest cast member.  Other times...it wasn’t.

The permutations of the past have led up to the present.  Every successive version of this character has led up to Ursa as she is today -- someone who I want to, and is designed to, leave a big impact.  I want her to be memorable.  I want her to be strong.  I want her to be someone that’s never, ever been seen before -- or at the very least, not in a long time.  And I realized that the most effective, most obvious way to do that is simple.

She has to be big.  Very big.

Suspect art aside, I think that’s pretty obvious.
No, man.  When I say big, I mean big.

Hmmm…well, come to think of it, she doesn’t exactly look waifish.  She actually looks like she’s a bit on the thick side.
Yeah, that’s true.  That’s intentional; ideally, she’s supposed to have roughly the same proportions as a plus-size model (so to speak, given that there’s probably a wide margin of measurements).   But  even so, that’s not exactly what I mean.

Then…wait, no.

You can’t be serious.
Why wouldn’t I be? 

So she’s actually…well, that explains the horns and tail.
Well, I should think so.  They fit the giant monster moniker rather swimmingly.

So, I guess this is the part where you explain what her deal is, isn’t it?
Yeah, I guess I’d better.  There is a lot that needs to be explained, I think.  Where to begin, where to begin…where do I even begin?


…Now would be a good time to begin.
Right then.  You see, Ursa’s spirit is --

Hey, what are you doing?  You can’t just shift topics like that out of nowhere!
But I wanna!  And I’m gonna!

I don’t think there’s a word strong enough to express my hatred of you.
Funny you should say that.  Because you see, Ursa’s spirit -- and by extension, the spirit of her story -- is…


Love?  Hmph.  Is that it?
You’re not impressed?

Why should I be?
Because it’s love, man!  L-O-V-E!  Don’t you believe in its power?  The awesome, righteous, world-changing force contained in such a noble and passionate emotion?

You really couldn’t come up with anything better than love?  That’s the most played-out theme in all of fiction.  And you’re ascribing that to a female character, as if that’s all they can do?  I didn’t think my opinion of you could get any lower, but…well, here we are.
You never let up, do you?

Look, if it’ll make you feel any better, there was one alternative spirit that I very nearly used.  But I figured that based on events and happenings and relationships in the story, it would fit a lot better.  So, yeah, love it is.  It seems like a logical conclusion to come to, given that Ursa’s got a son to keep an eye on.

Oh, did I not make that clear?  She’s a single mom.  Kid’s name is Canis.  Ten years old.  Nice little guy -- kind of shy, though, but very smart.

But you said she’s a giant monster.

But she’s a mother.

So the kid is also --
No, he’s normal-sized.  Actually, he’s significantly shorter than the average ten-year-old.

…I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…explain.
Will do, buddy.

Now, where to begin…

…So let me give you a bit of context.

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO -- man, that line is so much fun to say -- the world of Levantine was created by the six goddesses.  Each one of them presided over the six elements of nature -- fire, water, earth, wind, light, and time; their combined powers created the planet, filled it with life, and let mana flow through its every pore.  Many different creatures came to be, and coexisted with the goddesses.  Together, they built homes, cooperated to cultivate the land, and made merry in the light of the planet’s moons.  For years, there was nothing but everlasting peace and happiness.

But peace and happiness weren’t good enough for some.  Humans unsatisfied with their lot in life, and jealous of the goddesses’ power, conspired to make it their own.  So they gathered underground, and began to develop dark magic and weaponry.  And they succeeded.  Emerging from the earth one moonlit night in droves, they launched their attack on the planet and the goddesses with their deadliest weapons: the teres, monsters of then-unseen size and power.  In spite of the population’s best efforts, they couldn’t push back the beasts, and could only watch as they tore their way across the landscape.  Not even the goddesses could fully repel them; one after another, the benevolent deities were struck down.  All except for one.  The goddess of time, devastated by the death of her sisters and the ravaged land, summoned power she hardly knew she could muster -- and with it, slaughtered the beasts with a thought.  And with so many of their forces dead, the dissidents soon faced the goddess’ wrath.  She banished them to the depths of the earth, never to be seen again, never to see the light of the moons again.  They were branded, cursed, hated; they came to be known as the lunamis -- and they remained sealed within the planet for centuries.  As for the goddess herself?  She withdrew from the world, growing reclusive and disillusioned, and leaving the people to handle their own affairs.  And so they did, for thousands of years.

That should have been the end of it -- but it wasn’t.  Teres began to roam the land again, alternating between taking territories as their own and crushing anything that stood in their path.  Race relations slowly began to deteriorate, with each one blaming the other for the birth of those dark magicians.  And worst of all, lunamis began to appear naturally amongst humans -- children born with a red, moon-shaped tattoo on their bodies, with white hair and red eyes.  They were children cursed by the goddess, by the sealed deviants, by the myriad races, of the world, or perhaps by the sins of their parents.  No one knew for certain…but everyone knew they couldn’t be accepted into society.  But life, fragmented as it was, went on.  And that fragmentation grew, and grew, just as the number of teres and lunamis grew.  But even then, life went on.

Sounds like a rough place to live.  A shame those good times had to come to an end.
Like I said, peace and happiness weren’t good enough for some.

So where does that leave the story?
About four thousand years after the planet’s creation.  Levantine’s not exactly an advanced civilization, though; it’s more rustic and classical, and vaguely Hellenistic…though I use that term sparingly, because A) Greece doesn’t exist in this story, B) I’m not enough of an authority to say anything substantial, C) I need to do a crapload more research, and D) right now I’m using the aesthetic largely based on the rule of cool.  In any case, teres are still crawling around the landscape.  The smallest of them are the size of the average tiger; the largest, practically mobile islands.  They’re a fixture of the wildlife, but that doesn’t make them any less of a nuisance; they’re a legitimate concern and a regular topic during political debates.  Thankfully, the people of the world -- organized into element-themed super-countries known as “Realms” -- have built countermeasures against them.  Magic has been proven to be the best offense against them.  Armies stand at the ready to do battle against them, and adventurers with skill and valor hunt them for profit, resources, and glory.  Each Realm works internally to develop new technology to resolve the threat once and for all, from giant mana cannons to towering walls…and, of course… 

Yep.  There are mechs in this story.  You excited yet?  Don’t answer that, I’m not done talking.

Unfortunately, things are very tense in Levantine.  The Realms’ arms race inadvertently drives a wedge between them, to the point where they’re in an unspoken cold war.  The lunamis are still treated like lepers (and much, much worse); no one’s about to forget that because of their ancestors, everyone got screwed out of paradise -- and the normal folk make damn sure that they’re going to suffer for it.  Race relations are non-existent, if only because things have gotten so bad that every race besides the human one was exiled to the inhospitable wastelands of the Fire Realm.  (Though there are still pockets of non-humans left across the world, albeit in reserve-like communities that they’re not allowed to leave without starting continent-wide riots.)  So yeah, it’s a world full of…unpleasantness, but it’s still very livable.  The reason for this is traceable to a certain source -- or rather, a certain someone -- but I’ll get to that later, maybe.  I’ve dilly-dallied long enough.

Finally, something relevant.
Right.  See, being anything besides human in Levantine is a no-no.  Humans pretty much own the world, and the other races are either ignored or shooed out (and the less said about the treatment of lunamis the better).  As you can imagine, this puts Ursa in a very bad situation.

Because she’s a giant monster.
Wellllllllllll…yes and no.

Oh, joy.  Now you get to explain more.
Ursa isn’t exactly what you think she is.  Teres aren’t even remotely human; sure, you’ll see some bipeds and such, but nothing like her.  No normal skin, no normal hair, no normal hands, feet, fingers, toes, whatever.  Teres are beasts, animalistic, instinctual titans through and through.  So you could argue that Ursa isn’t a teres at all.

It certainly helps that she was a pure human once.

So she became a monster?  How?  And why?
That’s a secret.  It’s an important part of her backstory, and if there’s one thing I HAVE planned more than anything else, it’s that…buuuuuuuuut I think I’ll just keep those little tidbits in my pocket for now.  In any case, what’s important to note is that she’s not a conventional giant monster.  To be honest, she starts at a base height of twenty feet.

I don’t know what to address first -- the fact that you’re just now giving her height, or the fact that you’re treating it like it’s not that big a deal.
King Kong would be more than twice her size.

Yes, but twenty feet is still the size of a two-story house.
You’re really uptight about the details, aren’t you?  Then you must have noticed -- I said she STARTS at a base height of twenty feet.  You know what that means, right?  Well before the story’s end, she’ll be much bigger than that.

Why, you ask?  Because she’s cursed.  She doesn’t know why, and neither does anyone else, but she knows what’s going down -- she’s growing by a foot a day.  She’s done a good job of hiding herself so far, but the bigger she gets, the harder it’ll be to stay hidden.  And the more people know about her, the more likely she is to get hunted, harmed, and more.  It’s just a good thing that she’s living in a seaside cave in the boonies of the Earth Realm, living a peaceful (if reclusive) life with her son by her side, and NOT getting herself captured as a result of being roped into an arena battle to fight for the amusement of high-paying onlookers eager to watch monsters beat the life out of each other, but ultimately ends up carted off to a detention center after she’s deemed too dangerous to the public and her body is to be used for dissection and analysis but she’s forced to break out in mid-transit and try and find her way home in spite of her swelling body and an unfamiliar, unsympathetic world out to use her, abuse her, or outright kill her…and her son.  Her son, who is also one of the dreaded and hated lunamis, and as such has a high chance to be ostracized and hazed -- perhaps to the point of death -- whenever he reveals himself.

Oh wait.  That’s exactly what happens.

So that’s the plot in a nutshell, I take it?
Yeah.  But there’s a subplot that runs parallel to it.  See, Ursa and Canis are travelling together -- mother and son, taking on the world.  That might sound like remarkably poor parenting (and it’s a point discussed several times), but there’s a reason why Ursa would rather bring Canis along than leave him home alone.  Remember that goddess of time I mentioned earlier?  Well, one of her duties is to act as an oracle; people go to her shrines, pray, and receive hints toward an unchangeable future.  It’s not exactly a pleasant job given that there’s a chance your fortune could suck ass -- and for several people in the story, it does -- and it certainly doesn’t help that the goddess has become a stoic information broker rather than the flighty deity of the past.  But in some cases, she actually makes an appearance before mortals.  Rare cases, but cases nonetheless -- cases that can be born of extreme importance, or to outright punish sinners.

Prior to the start of the story, the goddess gives Ursa a message the day after Canis’ tenth (disastrous) birthday: before his eleventh birthday, Canis will die.  No exceptions.  No defense.  No hope of giving him a nice big surprise party next year.  The kid’s days are numbered.  But that’s not going to stop Ursa from trying; she’ll not only protect her son, but do everything in her power to do the impossible: change his fate.  But she has no idea how Canis is supposed to die.  It could be from anything.  Anyone.  Anytime, anywhere.  So she not only has to find a way to get this curse of hers under control and survive whatever the less-than-compassionate world throws at her, but she also has to figure out how to prevent Canis’ death -- which, again, could happen at any moment.

As you can imagine, she’s a little bit tense.

But she’s got it covered, right? 
Pretty much.  The story starts in media res, so when we’re first introduced to Ursa, she’s not twenty feet tall -- she’s six times bigger.  That alone should be a cause for relief, but being that big comes with a slew of drawbacks.  For one thing, she is slooooooooooooooooooow.  Forget what you’ve seen from one of the Gundam shows or Evangelion -- Ursa cannot move quickly, or with anything resembling agility.  She’s a slow-ass grappler-type character, and would be even at her “normal” size; even relative to a teres, she’s pretty clumsy when it comes to movement.  Combine that with the fact that A) she’s got no formal training when it comes to combat, B) she’s vulnerable to magic, as all teres are, and C) she’s one big target.

That said, what Ursa lacks in finesse and skill, she makes up for it with RAW ASS POWER.  She was already super-strong at her “normal” size, and that strength only grows as her body does.  We are talking some serious real estate damage; she can toss around buildings, upend massive slabs of earth, start earthquakes with a stomp, hoist battleships, and even lift a whole damn mountain.  And she’s tough.  Really tough.  Physical attacks from regular, magic-less weaponry won’t even nick her, and even beyond that she can take a full-powered swing from a teres and walk it off a few minutes later.  And what I said about her not being formally trained in combat?  Well, she’s not.  But she is an ardent wrestling fan, and knows enough about it to use those moves in a fight.    But even if she couldn’t power-bomb a dragon or pile-drive a minotaur, would you really want to try and tussle with a skyscraper-sized, super-strong woman that can shrug off the blows of entire armies?

All power, no skill.  That’s the gist of it, right?
Yup.  She’s a character whose stats sit at extreme ends of the spectrum -- strong and durable, but no speed and no magic.  If she wants to muscle her way to victory, she’ll have to do it without any fancy tricks.

But…there are some other drawbacks.  Very, very big drawbacks.

I should think so.  She’s a walking catastrophe.
That’s true.  But there are other things.

She’s getting bigger, that much is obvious.  But sometimes, her growth isn’t exactly even.  The base rate is a foot a day; in certain conditions, however, that rate temporarily skyrockets.  Make her really lose her cool -- make her deathly afraid, or incredibly angry -- and the curse responds to her haywire emotions.  It activates to suit her instinctual desires, her desperate need to survive or destroy…and as such…

The worst case scenario.
You got it.

And you’re sure she’s actually the hero of her story, right?  Because the way you’ve put it, she’s the worst part of an already-sorry world.
Who gave you that impression?

You did.
Not on purpose.  I’ll admit that the more I think about Ursa and the story itself, the more often I find myself thinking “Wow, this is a lot darker than I intended.”  But to say that there’s a lot of whimsy, fun, laughter, and (of course) love throughout the story would be a massive understatement.  Levantine is a dangerous place, but it’s also a magical, untamed world full of mystery, wonder, and countless chances for even the most feeble-bodied children to prove themselves.  Even if the people in it are in a constant state of flux, and if conflict is just a hat’s drop away, there are characters that are charming, good-intentioned, and even a bit silly.  Hell, even the story’s villain is a genuinely good guy, if a little extreme.  But of course, Ursa is the lynchpin of the story, the centerpiece of all its ideas and discussions.  She defines the story more and better than I ever could.

But you’re going to try, right?
Yeah, I’ll give it a shot. 

In spite of the difficulties she’s destined to face over the course of the next year of her life, Ursa is, inherently, a big loveable lug.  She’s a good person that cares about her son -- that’s a given.  She’s good-natured, friendly, and always eager to put a smile on someone’s face.  She may act ditzy and childish at times, but underneath that brainless exterior lays a highly self-aware, savvy, and mature person.  She’s not without her faults -- stubborn, a bit selfish, and can get emotional very easily -- but she is, at a base level, the quintessential gentle giant.

She’s just a victim of the circumstances, then. 
So to speak.

Let me guess -- this is where you throw in a bunch of random details, right?
Aw, you know me so well, buddy!

She’s a gentle giant, but she’s often a very silly and unpredictable one.  She’s no stranger to a nice barrel of beer or two (and makes for a fascinating drunk).  She’ll go starry-eyed at a moment’s notice if you put something she loves in front of her -- meat, cake, a handsome, virile, scantily-clad man, what have you.  She’s a die-hard wrestling fangirl, but she’s got a surprising amount of knowledge about art, music, and astronomy.  And also, it’s not uncommon for her to engage in some fourth-wall shenanigans.

Shenanigans?  I just like speaking my mind, that’s all.  And pointing out funny stuff.

What was that?  Well, anyway…

I should probably also mention that she’s a bit…er…perverse.  Not just because she’s a little too eager to ogle the opposite sex; she’s well aware of how she looks.  Whose idea do you think it was to wear a two-piece cow-printed outfit like that?

Well, that explains it.  Sort of.
Exactly.  I mean, you can’t go wrestling in your Sunday best.  And the lady’s all too eager to show a little skin every now and then…which incidentally becomes a whole year, because that’s all she can wear.

So how do her clothes not --
Magic.  She came up with the design, and her son made the clothes for her.

But why would --
Magic.  Her clothes won’t tear up no matter how big she gets.  Same size, no malfunctions.

So that --
Magic.  End of story. 

A woman’s gotta leave something to the imagination. ;)

You hear something?  Eh, never mind.  Anyway, it’s not like she can use magic; she leaves that to Canis.

And while I’m on the subject, I should probably mention that as odd as Ursa can be, Canis is ten times weirder.  The kid is an outright genius in terms of knowledge, mental prowess, and magical talent.  Unfortunately, he’s still ten years old.  He doesn’t know much about the world’s practical matters (doesn’t help that the only person he’s ever spent more than a few weeks with is his mom), but bless his heart, he’ll try to fill in those gaps in knowledge by coming to his own conclusions.  As such, he thinks that cows are supreme, sacred animals, and that babies are delivered by a benevolent creature known as the Meat Fairy.  One day when he’s older, Ursa will correct him. 

Quirks aside, Ursa and Canis are more than just a familial unit.  In a sense, they’re each others’ best -- and in reality, only -- friend; they complement each other, enjoy each other, discuss things with each other, stare at the night sky with each other, all that and more.  And by more, I mean they help each other in a fight; Ursa’s the brawn that does all the main monster-bashing and heavy-lifting, and gets them across Levantine with some very long strides.  Canis is the brains, analyzing monsters and pointing out their weak spots, heading into ruins too small and fragile for Ursa to even approach, and using magic to support and heal his monstrous mama.  Incidentally, although Canis is delicate and weak, he’s a speedster with some emerging blade skills.  It certainly helps that he forges a shortsword that specifically seeks out enemies’ magical weak points…and he eventually evolves enough to specialize in the art of the one-hit-kill on any living creature.

Hard to say which one of them is more dangerous, really.

But I’m guessing their relationship is a little more complicated than that -- or at least becomes more complicated thanks to the circumstances.
You’re pretty sharp.  As much as I’d like to say that they’re best buds throughout the entire story, that’s not the case.

Do we really have to talk about this?

There it is again…well, no matter, I'll just ignore it.  Part of the reason Ursa and Canis are that close to begin with is because they’ve spent years of their lives in isolation -- and historically, it’s never long before the two of them end up having some nasty encounters with the public whenever they stay exposed for too long.  Ursa’s found a way or two around that by way of paying for people to do tasks for her -- or outright scaring them by virtue of her size.  But Canis has never fared as well; he’s a lunamis, and as such is an enemy of the world.  It creates a bit of divergence in their worldviews, one that persists in spite of their general kindness and mutual love.

Canis -- in spite of being a contented kid on the surface -- has a deep-rooted self-loathing.  He’s taken in the spoken and unspoken hatred towards him, and it’s made him a highly-introverted, highly-apologetic recluse.  He wants to be normal, and believes that things would be better off if he was…or if anything that wasn’t human -- wasn’t normal -- didn’t exist.  It should be noted that in stark contrast to his mom’s revealing attire, he’s more commonly seen in a cloak and hood.

Conversely, Ursa is proud of who she is.  She had issues growing up, but she’s long since gotten over them and has learned to accept herself.  The problem is, underneath that pleasant veneer hides a deeply hurt, deeply resentful child.  Rather than hating herself, she’s come to hate others.  It’s because no one was/is willing to accept her, or see past her extreme body, that both she and her son are ostracized.  She’s come to trust in herself, and only herself -- to rely on her own power to get what she wants, and those that stand in her way…well…

Sometimes, it just can’t be helped…

It becomes increasingly obvious that Ursa and Canis have not only different viewpoints, but different objectives.  Sure, the ultimate goal is to figure out how to stop Ursa’s transformation (including some of the more worrisome elements) and how to save Canis from an untimely death.  But how do they go about it?  What about all the particulars?  What sort of world can Ursa possibly leave her son in, knowing that he’d be hunted and abused?  What sort of world can she create using her cursed power for his sake -- and how much destruction is she willing to bring about to create her new world?  And Canis has no shortage of worries.  His mom is rapidly turning into a liability, a menace to the world that can decimate cities just by stepping through them, consume natural resources at a horrific rate, and -- by virtue of being a giant monster with human intelligence -- disrupts the already-fragile political balance of the world to the point of a planet-wide struggle to capture her, use her for one realm’s assured dominance, or outright murder.  Canis wants to put an end to all that by making her (and himself) 100% normal, to the point where he’ll explore ancient ruins -- the remnants of the first-generation lunamis’ civilization -- and uncover the past’s mysteries and crimes to abandon their lives as freaks. 

Both of them are put through their paces as they’re forced to face conflicts internal and external.  It’s a given that both of them will face off with dozens of monsters large and small, and it’s a given that they’ll be tested by armies and armadas out to ensure a quick and painful burial.  But they’ll have to deal with the world itself -- they’ll have to react and re-examine themselves in the face of the people they meet.  Plenty of them are out for blood (though justifiably so), but plenty of characters offer their aid and clashing ideals.  Ursa has to deal with opponents that are genuinely noble people, and make world-changing decisions spurred by kings looking to offer her sanctuary.  Canis -- who’s spent years of his life in solitude -- ends up meeting people of numerous races, numerous classes, and to top it all off, his father.

…I’d ask about that, but I don’t think I’d like the answer.
Smart move.  It’s a long story, so let’s keep focus for now.

Part of the reason why the spirit of this story is “love” is because both characters -- and by extension, plenty of others -- have to define themselves and their world according to love.  Ursa actually ends up receiving a declaration of love from an unexpected source, a largely-harmless prince whose naiveté surpasses even Canis, but is a paragon through and through.  But she has no idea how to respond to it -- especially now that she’s in the middle of a very potent growth spurt. 

Meanwhile, Canis ends up slowly falling for a girl he’s met, and occasionally travels with.  She’s a real spitfire, no doubt a result of being a parentless street rat -- and if not that, then it’s certainly made her crude and cynical.  Problem is, she’s a third wheel; she and Ursa have a lot of bad blood between them, and it’s his mother’s reaction to this new girl that ensures Canis’ development…and quite possibly, his rebellion.

I knew that girl was trouble the moment I saw her!

When I say “plenty of others” I MEAN plenty of others.  Canis’ father -- who I assure you is a trip in his own right -- keeps his identity hidden at first, content with just interacting with his son and slowly figuring out how he’ll reveal himself to Ursa.  Would-be heroes operate under emotion-bred logic, hoping to earn and maintain the love of their family, their villages, and (in the case of the occasional washed-up wrestler) their few remaining fans.  Soldiers take up arms and fight for the love of their country and their leaders.  Hell, even the villain -- the effective conqueror of the entire world prior to the story -- is doing what he does out of love, be it for his sister, the countries that look up to him as a savior, or just as he contends with his own relationship issues.

So love is in the air.  Fair enough.
That all said, though, love is a blessing and a curse in the story.  Ultimately, it propels countless changes throughout Levantine and its characters, and proves to be a more notable concept than the theme of power.  But sometimes, love makes its characters do some outright crazy things -- and as you can guess, Ursa’s the prime suspect.

She does what she does because of love for her child; she wouldn’t be a mama bear if she didn’t.  But her “whatever it takes” mentality, combined with her increasingly-superficial concern for anyone that isn’t her or her son, means that she’s more likely to become the threat everyone paints her as.  She’s savvy enough to note and avoid problems before they arise, and she does practice some self-control (and all-out isolation) for the most part…but then again, this is fiction land.  She knows there’s going to be some dumbass that crosses the line and screws with her son.  She knows that there’s going to be a time when she loses control.  She knows it’s only a matter of time before the pleasantries she’s accustomed to dishing out get replaced, and her true feelings -- her fear, her sorrow, and especially her anger -- come to light.  You know it’s going to happen, because it’s her biggest fear, a point of discussion among various characters, and an overall menace that hangs over the tale.  And when she does reach that point…when she gets wronged one time too many…when she lets her wild passion get the best of her…

Another nuclear blast, like last time?
If what I’ve read is true, then scientifically speaking a heavy-enough punch from Ursa could have the force of a nuclear blast.  What I’m envisioning is something a bit worse.  As in whatever continent she’s standing on gets completely and utterly fucked.

At this point I have to ask: you’re sure she’s the heroine?
It’s debatable, given that she’s a walking catastrophe, has no shortage of issues, and ultimately reasons that the only way to give her son -- and herself -- a peaceful home is to take over the world.  Incidentally, even though Ursa’s rage is fearsome, it’s not the worst the story has to offer.  Canis’ is.

He’s a nice kid.  He may come off as a bit of a wallflower (and in some respects he is), but there’s a quiet determination to him, one that evolves over the course of what could be the last year of his life.  The weak boy he started as ends up melting away, bit by bit…and there’s no greater impetus than his mother’s march across the planet, searching and fighting and ultimately campaigning to unite the world under her rule.  It’s a far cry from the peaceful life he once knew, and his mother’s actions -- smothering him, isolating him, refusing to let him be anything more than her flimsy little boy -- build up pressure inside him.  But it all comes to a head when Ursa makes one slight mistake.  

All it takes is one little lie. One lie makes Canis to go absolutely berserk -- to the point where he temporarily abandons her, teams up with the villain, starts subconsciously tapping into the depths of his cursed power, and for a short time, distorts reality.

Okay, are there any good people in this story?
Yes, blast you!  Haven’t you heard the expression “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”?  That applies in full here.  Ursa is forced to face the worst parts of herself and learn how to live in Levantine all over again.  Canis has to learn how to believe in himself, and find strength he’s never had to improve his lot in life -- and as a result his mother’s, so she can take solace in knowing he CAN actually take care of himself.  There’s much learning, much development, and much bonding to be had between multiple parties.  And the lynchpin of all of that is love.    

You can’t just say “love” and make everything all better.
I won’t.  All I ask is that you take a leap of faith with me.

Ursa’s strong.  She has enough physical presence and prowess to almost-automatically make most fights an instant win.  But she has to learn how to use that strength, and who to use it for.  Will she use it to create a world solely for herself and her son?  Will she use it solely to survive and eke out an existence against constant threats to their well-being, even if they haven’t done a single thing wrong besides exist?  Or will she give in to her dark desires and become a beast -- a whirling maelstrom of destruction and chaos?

I’ll never let that happen.  I’m more than just a monster…!

The answer is obvious.  She’s going to make a better world.  At first she’s only out to survive, and at certain points in the story she’s doing what she does for less than savory reasons.  But she is constantly, consistently, courageously putting herself out there to do what she thinks is right.  She’ll help people.  She’ll save them from other monsters.  If she breaks something, she’ll try to fix it.  If there’s something out of reach for a crying child, she’ll bend down and hand it to them.  If there’s some menial task that any old Joe can do, she’ll lend a hand in that Joe’s stead.  She’ll laugh at jokes, sing along at festivals, tend to farms, play bodyguard to sailing ships, hunt down monsters in the stead of battered militias, bridge the gap between humans and the world’s races, and do everything in her power to put a smile on every child’s face.  In a way, she’s just as childish, naïve, and insular as Canis -- maybe more -- and being forced to leave her cave is vital to her growth.  The world’s shrinking before her eyes, but that just means she can see more of it -- and the more she sees, and the more she experiences, the more she comes to love it.

Does the world push back?  Yes.  Does the world punish her for unjust reasons?  Of course.  But Ursa overcomes them because there are more important things in life than holding grudges and getting back at those that wronged you.  It’s her power that makes her feared, but it’s through her love -- through the embrace of the world itself, from the largest mountain to the smallest child -- that’ll make her revered.

I’ll change the world -- and I’ll do it for everyone’s sake!

Of course, an honorary meat festival would speed up the process.

Guess you’ve put a little thought into this.
I’m well aware.  And I’ve got a lot more work to do; I feel as if I could make the story about…oh, at least eighteen percent wackier.  I just need to figure out how to top the drunken-boxing-archer…

I’m guessing your brain is just scrambled enough to pull this off.
You actually praised me?  Aw, I’m so flattered!  I’ll reward your kindness with a theme song!

Hmph.  Well, I guess this thing is finally over.
Oh yes, this post is over.  But we still have eight more spirits to discuss -- and with them, eight more over-the-top heroes.  Staying put is highly recommended…or at the very least, checking back in the next week or so.

I’ll consider it.  But you have to realize I’m quite busy.
Then I’ll sweeten the deal with another teaser trailer!  The hype will compel you to get on your hands and knees and BEG for the next Spirit Showdown post to come!

You are way too energetic about this.
Maybe you’re just not energetic enough.  But I’ve got just the cure for your indifference.

All right, I guess I’ll let you hit the ol’ dusty trail.

Finally.  We’re done here…at least for now.
Hello?  Are you still there?

Oh, it’s you.  What do you want?
Um, if you don’t mind me asking…just who are you, exactly?


  1. I also have a drawer filled with proto-story attempts, as well as a couple of (very) embarassing examples of fanfiction that have since been deleted from the internets (or so I hope).

    We really should trade our worst ideas, see who comes out on top.

  2. I tried my hand at fanfiction a few times. The first time, I barely got a page in before quitting; the second, I wrote all of one sentence. I guess I (rightly) figured that I shouldn't try to improve on someone else's work, especially when at the time I could barely write in cursive.

    On the subject of worst ideas: I once had a story that involved a 4'11" high school kid who became the lynchpin of a planetary struggle for sovereignty between a race of Gundams whose absolute rule of the universe would be made certain by coming to earth and eating said high school kid. That story has since been tweaked significantly from its original form.

    It is now far, far weirder. Miraculously, no drugs were involved.

    In any case, you might want to try dropping by sometime tomorrow. The next character I've cooked up is a superhero of sorts, and I imagine that's right up -- or somewhere parallel to -- your alley.

  3. One page? Ahahahaha, Rhamy, you crack me up. My biggest piece of fanfiction so far had been a (thankfully unfinished) epic, set at 250 pages, written in script format. In this epic, there starred EVERY CHARACTER OF EVERY RPG I HAD PLAYED UP UNTIL THEN (I was 16) which meant the entire cast of characters of FF 4-7, Breath of Fire 3's full cast, Baldur's Gate's 2's Volo and Elminster as well as the main characters of Legend of the Dragoon, without taking into consideration secondary characters from Warcraft and a brief cameo by Tassadar of SatrCraft fame.

    I distinctly recall looking at this story as I was just done typing the 250th page, going "Holy shit, what the hell am I doing with my life?" and drank my very first two beer cans before leaving it altogether. I then proceeded to print that monster and stuck it in my "Drawer of Shame" where it has remained under lock and key to this day. I think I can hear it growling menacingly at me sometimes, late at night.

    Now, on your short champion of the universe idea: yes, I would love to read it. You're sure it's not I Hraet You? I mean, it's a tale of an underdog, caught in an epic struggle.

    And yay! Superheroes! Looking forward to it.

  4. Son of a...now that is what I call a crossover. A shame it had to be tucked into the Drawer of Shame. Also, Legend of the Dragoon? Unexpected, but certainly appreciated; if the memory card I had my save file on hadn't gotten corrupted (and lost), I definitely would have finished it. Surprisingly fun game, that...if only because it let me shout "VOLCANO!"

    I actually had a "Briefcase of Shame" at one point, a clear plastic container where I stuck all my drawings and notebook sheets riddled with proto-stories. And by riddled I mean I couldn't even fill a notebook. (Though I would be able to fill a couple of notebooks later on -- the location of which shall remain a secret until the end of days.)

    And for the record, I Hraet You has NOTHING to do with any of the characters/stories I've planned prior to it. I came up with IHY about a year ago; the other stuff goes back to when I was as young as eleven. So you can consider Lloyd and all the adventures therein to be part of an entirely separate beast.

    Though I will admit, I've grown pretty fond of IHY lately. So maybe I'll find ways to work Lloyd into other stuff...

  5. It is never to see the light again. The Containers of shame are to be locked and forgotten by Man, save by those that made them and assigned them, to remember and to cherish as failurea to spur them on to future success...