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Thread: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

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    Default The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    The Editor Speaks
    Welcome to Issue 19 and the beginning of the second year of the Critic's Quill! No interviews this time I'm afraid, but we do have a selection of fine reviews, an erudite article on AAR visuals, and the concluding instalment of my coverage of recent Scriptorium writing competitions.

    I'm afraid I have had to put the Scriptorium review in a separate post in order to keep within the 100,000 character post limit, so don't forget to read it. There are some good stories there.

    It being the exam season, our regular writers have been up against it finding time to create material, so I would like to welcome a new prospective reviewer to our ranks; Lord de Lyonesse. Please post feedback on this his inaugural effort, and indeed on all of our work.

    Enjoy the issue! Juvenal (Editor)

    Table of Contents

    AAR Review Section

    Upon a Setting Sun
    An Historical Fiction by Captain Jin

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The Wild West has been depicted so often on film. We have seen countless Westerns, from the good to the bad, to the downright ugly. We have watched Clint Eastwood as he guns down outlaw after outlaw with his Colt six-shooter. We have witnessed John Wayne ride into the sunset. Yet how many of us have ever sat down and read a Western?

    Captain Jin, author of the well-received (read: excellent) ‘A Red Coat in the Wrong Place’, brings us another great piece in the form of an epic written Western, ‘Upon the Setting Sun’. Taking us from the rocky mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts and gold-towns of Montana, we follow the story of the ragged ‘Stranger’ as he visits Virginia City on some ‘unfinished business.’ And yes, that involves people being riddled with bullets.

    Captain Jin is excellent at setting a scene; the descriptions of clothing and environments are rich and vivid: You can feel the sand blowing against your skin, hear the clamour of the saloon...

    The hustle and bustle of the town around him swelled, writhing as foot traffic so often did and no one paid any attention to this ill-minded man as he crossed the thoroughfare with purpose in his step.
    The writing is smooth and slick, just like our protagonist. Every word is shot from its barrel with superior intent, hitting the mark nearly every time; adjectives are occasionally over-used, but this is a minor hiccup when the whole is so good. A certain exchange with a desperate damsel is especially well written.

    The grammar and punctuation is fine, although I do remember seeing a few commas which could probably be turned into full-stops (‘periods’ for our Yankee readers) to make the already fluent writing even more precise.

    Even with only two parts written, our main character is already fleshed out; we know he’s an exceptional gunslinger and that he does not take kindly to betrayal. He’s economical with words but speaks with conviction. Yet there still remains a deliberate aura of mystery. Where did he come from? Why did he come here? Where is he going to go? Only Jin knows the answers.

    Once again, the author has crafted a wonderful piece of historical fiction. It is evident that much time has been spent piecing all the various paragraphs and phrases together. The sum of these parts leaves us with a fluid piece of writing, and hopefully by the time the next chapter is released the stench of cheap liquor will have left my nostrils and I will have removed this darn cockroach from by boot.

    Review by Katsumoto

    Wars of the Koinon Hellenon
    An EB AAR by Scipio Africanus Maximus

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Story and Introduction
    Our story begins on the intrepid seas of the Mediterranean. A small fledgling nation is divided in land and power and in desperate need of a true leader. The Koinon Hellenon, more commonly known as the Greek City States of ancient times are in peril. The 'empire' is in a sad state. Territories are cut off, supplies and manpower are all but gone, enemies are at the gates, parcels of land are ripe for the taking. The author has chosen to play as the Greek nation, and like so many others before him, he will lead his minor nation to fame and glory through conquest and the destruction of his enemies. The story is told in a unique way between two main characters, a diplomat and a common soldier. It is an interesting way to tell a story as the reader is presented with two different perspectives and this enriches the tale and adds a bit of diversity, something that is always welcome.

    Writing Style and Wording
    The writing style is told from the past tense, basically describing a series of events that occurred at different times during the campaign. I personally prefer stories that use this writing style as they are most like the history books, telling tales of great battles and greater deeds, rather than telling the story in the present; it adds greater meaning and complexity I think as the writer can take as much artistic license as they want and aren't necessarily hemmed in by the limitations of what is happening in the campaign itself. Writing a story in this tense gives the writer much more freedom to do as they wish, introduce new characters and develop back stories for them with greater ease and style. Kudos to the author for using this style, he pulls it off very well. It should be noted that the writing style and appearance are pretty consistent throughout the AAR, something that I think is quite important in keeping your readers entertained. Having a messy presentation that changes with each update and or jumping from different writing tenses can really destroy the immersion of a story. The author does well to stick to his guns and keep the story flowing smoothly and easily, saving the readers much eye-pain in the process.

    It's also pleasing to note that the author uses small portions of direct dialogue in his approach. Passages such as this one:
    “Friends, countrymen, sons of Zeus and Heracles. People of Athenai, and of Sparte, of Korinthos and of Rhodos. Chalkis, Argos, Demetrias, Pella, Thebes, and of every other polis in Hellas. I thank you for assembling here today. This is a joyous day, and one to be long remembered. For more than a decade we have been fighting. Fighting for our homes and for our families, but most of all for our freedom—freedom from the tyranny of the Makedone and Epeirote kings, and from the whips of the Seleukids. And now, my friends, we are free!”
    Really help to keep the reader enthralled and gives us a real sense of achievement and excitement that a milestone has been achieved, the path forward now clear. Adding portions of dialogue is also a very effective means of breaking up long paragraphs of text and can be quite a refreshing breath from the main story. The author also takes special care to mention historically accurate names and places, adding even more depth and a tad of excitement for the readers. It is as if you are seeing history relieved through the eyes of the people of that time. It's more than just reading a history book.

    Images and Visual Aids
    I have to say the use of images in this AAR is quite effective. The author uses images sparingly, only illustrating when needed and not overloading the reader with endless pics of a battle or somesuch. While there are battle pics (these are expected) they are for the most part great action shots that give the reader a bit of nice eye-candy to look at. Even better than those pictures though is the use of real life art and imagery from ancient Greece and surrounds. Images such as this:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    When accompanied by the introducing line:
    Before a vote was taken, each man was given an opportunity to speak. Eugenios was allowed to go first. The young man, though certainly ambitious, said that he did not wish to become Hegemon. He threw his support to Doros, saying that he would be content in leading Rhodos. This was no surprise to me, as I had seen his unease at being nominated.

    Alexandros spoke next.
    Really help create a great atmosphere for the reader to explore and enjoy. You get the sense that these characters are really having a serious discussion about Greek affairs, you may even find yourself thinking about the same problem and planning the solution! The author is quite skilled at creating the right atmosphere and treating the reader to some great authentic historical images and scenery.

    Of course, no AAR is complete without a few screenshots from the campaign itself. I've chosen to comment on this one in particular:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    As I think it really shows the reader what the author is trying to tell us. That the campaign is quite tough and that Greece is in a state of peril. Open fighting in the streets, every last man is held dear as more cannot be trained fast enough. Such a great shot this is, capturing all the right elements and looking spectacular as well. As I've said before the use of images and sparingly is a real plus in this AAR, those with slower connections will be absolutely delighted.

    Another image I really fell in love with was this one:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The defence of the city came at a heavy price. One of the great General's lay slain, and this lone soldier was all that remained. A survivor to tell the tale and carry on the legend. Truly a great shot that shows just how brutal war can be. Simple and effective. Powerful.

    Critique and Summary
    Reading this AAR and critiquing it was quite an enjoying experience for me. The writing is top notch, well presented and easy to follow. The story is unique and powerful at the same time. While it may have been told before the author does a good job of putting his unique spin on it and adding in some historical authenticity as well. The images used are pure class, less is more and they tell their own story. The accompanying captions and commentary are also top rate, really masterfully put together pieces in this regard.

    Unfortunately it looks like the author has left this AAR for now, the thread hasn't been posted in for two weeks or so. A shame really as the story just took on a very interesting twist, war with the Epirotes, something that was sure to put immense pressure on an already over burdended empire. But alas, beggars can't be choosers. An AAR well worth reading, despite it's short length and apparent death. Credits to the author for telling a great story and in such a wonderful fashion!

    Review by Saint Nicholas

    L'Etat c'est moi: The Monarchy of France
    An SS 6.1 AAR by Karnage

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    I stumbled upon this AAR whilst perusing this forum, too tired and unmotivated to revise for my upcoming exam. Much like Europes Monst Hated, an Medieval 2 AAR I reviewed for the last issue of Critic's Quill, this report caught my eye as Karnage has a rather unique style, which I enjoyed alot. "L'Etat c'est Moi": The Monarchy of France has been written mostly in first person, the overall plot of the story being a young historian researching the history of France. From 1080AD to 1176AD (planned to go up to 1500AD, Isabelle De Calais tells the reader the history of a fictional French monarch, providing sources she comes across written by various characters involved. As Isabelle searches through seemingly endless heaps of documents, she recounts to the reader not only the story, but the goings on around her, the difficulties she faces compiling the history, and even, in the last chapter completed so far, adds some mystery and intrigue to further excite us!
    Quote Originally Posted by A mysterious letter Isabelle recieves...
    Good morning Isabelle De Calais, I have learned of your quest to find the truth on the past French Monarch. We share the same interest you and I, however, due to the current situation, I cannot see you in person just yet, but know that I have documents in my hands that were thought destroyed. Documents that relate to you in particular. I would have sent more but I am being watched. Please mylady, be careful on who you trust. I will contact you again.

    A Friend.
    As aforementioned, Karnage has quite a unique style of writing, switching to-and-fro from Isabelle, to whoever is narrating her sources. I find this effective as it seems to keep your mind from wandering whilst reading, as large blocks of text are avoided. Karnage has kept it short and snappy, and I like it. However, one could also say that more text would be appreciated during the battles, arguably one of the most important part of a Total War AAR. However all is not lost, Karnage has used some well selected screenshots from the battle, which together with the text, manage to sufficiently cover the battle. These images are not only used to cover the battles, but are also placed nicely in between the narrative text. Karnage uses the in game messages, diplomacy, quests, childbirth and the like, to portray sources Isabelle has found. This is a welcome change from the norm as often these messages are placed in AARs as a space filler, not serving much of a purpose. This AAR also contains quite alot of character building. You get to know the characters, some you love, some you hate, and some Isabelle hates! It adds a nice light hearted dimension to the story as she reads through the exploits of characters such as Prince Louis, who Isabelle angrily reveals deserves the title "Louis the Coward", due to his unwillingness to fight.

    The grammar, spelling and punctuation is far from perfect, but I think the writer can be excused from this one. Karnage is from Quebec, and his English is definitely better than my French! A good way to improve here would be to ask somebody to proof-read for you. Improvements could also be made to the pictures used, simply trimming off the bits that from the Med 2 game (the UI etc) can make a world of difference, making them far more immersive.

    So in conclusion, I would highly recommend this AAR. Although it is a bit rough round the edges, this is only Karnage's second AAR. The fact that it has been regularly updated for over a month is also, I feel, a testament to the effort put in. I look forward to seeing more of Karnage's work as I am sure he will continue to improve.

    Review by Hitcher

    My Second English Campaign
    A DLV AAR by Xtiaan72

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Firstly I would like to inform the reader of this literature that I am new to Critics Quill, alas I never knew Calvin but I hope my first AAR review will stand as a testament to his much missed personality and allow me to be accepted into the realms of TWC’s writers, to form a part of his ever expanding legacy.

    As the title suggests this is an English AAR, using Deus Lo Vult version 3.2 with Bug-Fixer 3 and Art Fixer 3.2.3. Xitiaan72 gives a succinct overview of his aim within the AAR; keep the Crown within English hands and maintain an economic policy until attacked.

    As promised, Xtiaan72 implements the AAR’s aim as well as the constraints of the DLV mod permit, while taking a narrator’s perspective for the storytelling. This gives the reader to a clear insight into how the writing will be structured and what to expect from this lovingly made AAR. My first critique of the author's work would have to be the absence of any historical backdrop for the AAR to form a solid foundation. Although Xtiaan72 forms a coherent and well developed piece, it is well advised for any budding AARtist to include one.

    In the absence of an historical prologue or other scene-setting device, Xtiaan72 sends the reader hurtling straight into the campaign. In fact this worked so well I felt it went some way to actually redeeming the author’s failure to provide a prologue in the first place. I applaud the author’s sagacious use of imagery to illustrate the sheer brutality of the ‘Wedding War’ which dominates the early part of this most profound AAR. The tactic of which should be employed by every writer to display to the audience the true happenings within the game. Furthermore the pictures and the ever present delivery of dates serve as clear sign posts separating one rich chunk of story from the other, portraying the battles from there pane of commanders to the actual fighting right down to the list of outcomes.

    DLV is a challenging mod, featuring disloyalty and powerful rebellions. For example:
    1181: King Henry was keen on Duke Wat's idea but as he was gathering his forces for the invasion, Duke Wat and several other nobles did not respond to the muster. The King's second son Geoffrey crossed the channel to join the invasion force but in doing so made a crucial mistake. He did not bring two regiments of experienced Norman Knights that were willing and able to fight for Henry for a price. Crown Prince Robert responded to the muster, bringing with him a slew of peasant archers and deadly Welsh mercenaries. The stage was set for the first battle of the Wedding War between King Henry and Duke Wat.
    This also comes across in some of the pictures. Here an attempt is made to delay another rebel horde while Prince Geoffrey runs off the raise more troops.

    To add, the author’s witty use of language further entices the observer to read on, eager to find another humorous put down on dastardly Welsh longbow men or the general tomfoolery of the rebel forces within the game. I found it most remarkable that Xtiaan72 decided to include the somewhat embarrassing ‘stalemate’ between the rebel rascals and His Majesties army. However such inclusion allows the reader to appreciate the somewhat challenging skills one must learn in order to play this delightful mod on one of the most challenging difficulty settings.

    All in all the author presents his ‘Second English Campaign’ in good quality, however the weak and dislocated ending resembling nothing more as a cross narrated discussion reduces this AAR’s fineness to a little less than I had hoped, losing its original motivation and momentum. However, this being my first critique I do wish to end on a positive note. View this AAR for the sheer brilliance in the author's depictions of warfare, the sharp tag-lines never cease to raise a smile.

    Review by Lord de Lyonesse

    The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
    An RTW BI AAR by Decimus Milo

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Story and Introduction
    Another RTW based AAR review for you today gents. We've gone back in time somewhat, back to 363AD to be precise. The beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire. This AAR follows the good old Western Roman (RED) faction and their struggle to stave off the many wolves ready to kill the struggling empire. This AAR is using RTW's expansion, Barbarian Invasion as the mode of play. It's not often you see an AAR using only the vanilla game or expansion. Many writers aspire to bigger and better things and use many mods that give a different challenge. Points for the author though for being original. This tale begins with some visual representations of the state of the empire, the affairs, a few characters and the goal. Right from the outset the author leaps into the action and the AAR takes off.

    Writing Style and Wording
    The author has chosen to use very little wording in telling his story. The old saying "one picture is worth a thousand words" is especially true for this piece, though maybe not entirely. The writing is style is quite chaotic. The sequence of events and importance is also all over the place. It seems that the author is in a bit of a rush to tell his story and report on his campaign. Either that or he isn't quite sure on what he's doing and how to put it into words. Falling back on mainly images, it is hard to actually discern a plot from this AAR. It's made clear that Rome is in a state of peril and that there are enemies everywhere, rebels popping up and other burdening matters, but how exactly the author deals with all this is a bit of a mystery. One moment we're negociating peace with nation X, the next we're killing rebel peasants in Spain! The AAR has massive gaps in dialogue, plot development and characters. It really reads as the vanilla game plays, chaotic and not very in-depth. For example:
    Spoiler for BIG jump

    Another nice kill ratio. Unfortunately a few hundred of the scum were able to escape back to Cordoba.

    Mediolanium. Since we're going to disband this expensive army anyway we autoresolve this one.
    As you can see from the above, it seems that we are playing as God, able to be anywhere and everywhere at the same time! There is really no introduction or sequence of events that lead up to the siege of Mediolanium. Apparently the author just chose to lay siege to the city for no apparent reason, other than to take it. You might be thinking.. why else would you lay siege to a city.. to which I reply indeed, but where is the story? Where is the debrief from the last conquest? Where is the attending to wounded, the retraining of men, the fall in diplomatic relations..? It all goes by so fast, if you blink you might miss it. It's clear the author is basically writing this AAR as a series of events and actions that happen in the campaign, with no deviation from this at all. While it is clear this style of writing has some popular support (see the original thread), most readers would be turned off by this storyboard like AAR. After all, people can simply play their own campaigns, no need to watch someone else play theirs.

    Meh, that'll do.
    Quite an uninspired and even bordering on lazy approach to describing battle results, wouldn't you say? Surely this isn't the extent of the author's creative genius? At least I hope not..

    Images and Visual Aids
    This AAR is 95% images and visual aids. In fact the author relies so heavily on these that if there were no pictures you'd have a book of about 10 pages in reality. Also, the captions attached to the images continue to be uninspired and drab, sometimes even painfully obvious. For example:
    Spoiler for Well duh..
    Their cavalry charges into our spearmen.
    It's pretty obvious what is happening in that screenshot, but do we really need a caption telling us what is obvious? It's a tad insulting to readers intelligence really, if your going to deprive them of a strong story and plot then don't include random captions that don't need to be written. But in other circumstances it would have been nice if a small descriptive caption was attached to an image, for example:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Could have use a nice little line or two of text describing what is happening in the image and perhaps the events leading up to it.. but no, we're given nothing unfortunately.

    It seems not all hope is lost for the author though. I did manage to find a few pictures that had accompanying text, even a bit of intrigue and story, hinted at progression and plot development, only hinting though. See here:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    We're inflicting significant losses on the rebel scum. We're laying siege to New Carthage and their capital in Aquitania. With luck, Iberia and Gaul will be back under true Roman rule soon, and we can disband the forces we used to do it and get some precious, precious denarii.
    But the author quickly returns to the same bland and boring commentary soon after. At least the author is consistent!

    Critique and Summary
    In summary, quite a long AAR but only by the virtue of so many images! Those looking for a story and clear plot beware, you shall find neither here. What follows is a series of events and very plain commentary, almost like watching your own campaign unfold. It's a shame really because the story was set at a very interesting time in history, the division of the Roman empire and trials and tribulations of the General's and leaders of that time. But unfortunately we're spared that here, or fortunately, depending on how you like your AAR. For those readers that like pictures and little text, this AAR is for you. If you're a fan of cycling through screen dumps and just admiring the shots then this is your AAR. But if you want something a bit more in depth and deep, if you want to be totally immersed and forget you left the stove on.. then this AAR won't get you there. It's a piece you'll read or browse through and then forget about it in a day or two, kind of like a coffee table magazine. You know it's there and maybe one or two pages are interesting but for the most part, it's boring and you'll out it down really fast.

    Some advice for the author now, from a reviewers standpoint. Build a story! Develop and introduce some characters! Make them loveable and hateable at the same time! Include a plot and some twists! Liven up the story with some emotive language and some dialogue. To be honest I would have preferred a youtube video format of this AAR, listening to commentary is much more exciting than reading it. Work on your story, develop your piece, cut down on the pictures, don't rely on them to do your storytelling for you!

    Review by Saint Nicholas

    Article Section

    Still Pictures In AAR Writing: A Current State Of Affairs

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Any avid reader of AARs here at TWC has long ago noticed the increasing popularity of using still pictures and other media to augment their AARs. Purists may shudder at the notion of non-written input being used extensively, seeing (perhaps in cases justifiably) these techniques as a crutch to compensate for a lack of literary abilities.

    If one looks carefully, however, one may find that in these pictures are used strategically, thoughtfully, and with different purposes in mind. And contrary to being used as a crutch, in the right hands, they draw further attention to the written elements.

    "I constantly look back at the pictures from the battle stored on my computer in order to get that much needed inspiration about what exactly to write," states LuckyLewis, the author of the epic Liberation. He freely admits that writing is not his primary forte, but that the writing experience of Liberation has improved his skill.
    "During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were"
    Many authors agree that the pictures are not really used to progress the story as much as to help readers visualize key aspects of the AAR's battle sequence. "During battles, I find that a good photo can really help show what the effects of a 'devastating charge' were", states Skantarios of I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire fame. Dignan, author of A Cold Defeat, further explains his rationale: "I go through the replay again and try to capture screen-shots that are artistic, captivating and 'active'". These sentiments are echoed by Fixiwee, author of History of Men.

    These pictures are used not solely for the reader's benefit, but also for the author's. Skantarios explains that the pictures assist him greatly in the writing process: "I will write the battle using the pictures to prompt me on how the sequence of the battle progressed and make for an accurate retelling,".

    When deciding which pictures to use, and how to present them, nearly as much time and thought is spent as on writing the AAR itself. Every detail is considered, even the season in which the battle is being fought. "I probably prefer battles taking place in August and the warmer southern European climates," states LuckyLewis, "I love taking pictures in autumn as the battlefields aren’t completely covered by snow still regularly get that essence of dark and disturbing parts of war,".

    While conceding that most AAR writers prefer autumn and summer pictures, Dignan points out that the benefits of winter shots are sometimes overlooked. "Actually, I think the winter colors combined with some of the uniform mods look good". In A Cold Defeat, "the sun was low in the sky with overcast conditions which softened the normally harsh looking winter maps,".
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Winter shots are pretty...if you know just what to wear. Remember: no white slacks after Labour Day! (pic from A Cold Defeat)

    There is a common consensus that picture cropping, and editing out the HUDs and UI is a basic must, explains Fixiwee.
    "I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited."
    From there, however, personal styles and preferences take over. Picture size and dimensions vary. Skantarios is very conscious of pictures that are too large, and threaten to distract the reader from the story. LuckyLewis applies extensive use of panoramic shots, although he admits that it started accidentally during the cropping process. Now, however, the continuation of that format is deliberate. "I wanted to put emphasis on the action within the battle....If I uploaded the pictures as they were from the game, I think they would bore people quickly,". These pictures, added in sequence, give the reader the impression of a moving film of glimpses into the battle.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Panoramic shots, such as this one from Liberation, give an old-time, epic movie feel.

    There is no standard approach to the application of effects on pictures in AARs. Fixiwee reflects that "I (added effects) at the beginning, but I thought that it looked cheesy...nearly all pictures are unedited." Dignan believes in a tempered approach to effects: "Sometimes I apply a simple color correction filter to give colors a more washed out look but usually my pictures are straight out of the game, unaltered". Skantarios admits that his limited application of effects is due "more to my lack of knowledge on how to do this effectively as well as the greater time commitment required to do so...If I had more time and skill, I would definitely do more to make the pictures better".

    Many AAR authors shared their thoughts on how they may use pictures in the future. LuckyLewis sees his style of pictures as a key to keeping his AARs unique, but admits that in future, "If anything, I’d probably take fewer and concentrate more on the writing...I don't want my AAR to become dependent on pictures to say the least...less is more,".

    Skantarios explains that his AAR was a great learning experience, and that his use of pictures in future would reflect those lessons learned. "I might also try to add in some other historical art shots that aren’t part of the game and bring in some graphic detail from outside to make the story better. The game gives you a lot of material to work with but there are still some elements that could be made better to show some of the items not covered in the battle.". He goes on to state "I have at times overused the pictures...I would make a more judicious use of them rather than throwing in all the 'good' ones and going from there...Also, I would probably incorporate more map screens to show the progress of the campaigns and to show the mid- and long-term objectives...I have done this to a certain extent but not as much as I would have wanted to.".

    For Dignan, his thoughts of future direction when using pictures take a very creative turn. "I actually toyed with the idea of doing an AAR using exclusively screen-shots, something in-between a motion picture and a text AAR...imagine a PowerPoint presentation with pictures that flip about every three seconds with fades, wipes and slow zooms...almost like a History Channel documentary with still photos".

    An interesting idea indeed.

    LuckyLewis' Liberation
    Skantarios' I am Skantarios! Rebirth of the Eastern Empire
    Dignan's A Cold Defeat,
    Fixiwee's History of Men

    By ♔The Nanny♔

    Letters Section

    Here is another small selection of observations from our loyal readers. Maybe next time your own nugget of wisdom might be gracing this section... just PM me with your insights, opinions and recommendations and I will consider including them here.
    Just remember the rules of the section:

    • Write a paragraph (or even a sentence) encapsulating something you feel is important about an AAR you have read: something you learned, liked, were surprised by; even something you wish the author would have done but didn't. Just avoid bashing and negative comments.
    • PM your submission to me Juvenal.
    • If we like it, it will be published in the next edition of Critic's Quill.

    Spoiler for Letter from ♔The Nanny♔

    Dear Critic's Quill,

    I'd like to draw some attention to Historical Fiction section, and in particular Katsumoto's writing style. I did not even know about this section until he approached me a while back to help with some promotion of The Red Riders. Since then, while I haven't contributed to the section, I've been an avid reader. And as good as the other stories are, I am drawn back to Riders.

    As a writer, Katsumoto clearly appreciates that to inject emotion and drama into action, flowery language, slow-motion deaths and fiery speeches won't cut it. He clearly understands that it is the tiny details during the quiet periods and personal moments that build dramatic tension.

    The two samurai rode beside each other for a moment as Ranmaru took a sharp sip of water from his bamboo bottle. Odd as he was, he didn’t remove his mask; instead, he used a hollow arrow as a straw with its head and fletching removed. They continued for a while until Kage interrupted the awkward silence.
    Details like this bring humanity to the characters. That way, when the pace does pick up, the smallest action event can feel like a very big deal. Many writers, particularly we AAR writers, have a hard time finding that balance...and particularly at TWC, some don't recognize that the genius parts of their favourite books and movies aren't the ones they are often trying to emulate. In the movie Gladiator, the battle scenes are cool and fun, but they work because of his hands running over wheat and picking up dirt. It is very tempting to spend all the energy on the battle action. It is hard to add depth.

    Much can be learned from the occasional jaunt over to the H.F. section...I'll be spending more time there.

    The Nanny

    Spoiler for Letter from Saint Nicholas

    How I like my AAR's...

    Well, for me the most important thing is the story. An AAR has to have a strong story that is both believeable and wonderful at the same time. You have to write your AAR like it is a book, as if people will buy it off the internet and open it in their hands and enjoy it. Think like your readers and you'll make them happy. An AAR has to have well developed characters that the readers can get to know. We have to be told of their experiences and become part of their life. We need to see them rise and succeed but we also need to see them fall from grace and fame. These are the things which build a character and enhance the plot.

    Secondly, any images must be high quality and action shots. I absolutely love the crop of images we're seeing today, extremely close up shots, zoomed right in so you can see that a soldier hasn't shaved today. It really helps adds to the immersion and inclusion of the reader. You feel like you are there with the men on the battlefield, about to be charged by cavalry or letting loose an arrow. Images really add to an AAR, but they can't dominate the AAR. I'm not really interested in reading a picture book, though my job as reviewer sometimes demands that I do. But I'm not afraid to take the tough assignments, or say the words that I feel need to be said.

    The end goal is all about improving an AAR and the writer. Everyone can improve somewhere. I don't care who you are or what you've written before, there is always room for improvement, the difference is how much room. Write on you AARtists, tell us a worthy tale. We do so enjoy a good read.

    Spoiler for Letter from ♔Luckylewis♔

    There seems to be a lack of AARs focussed on the rather forgotten idea of completing or following the original Kingdoms campaigns. Uniting a Kingdom by Tim1988 is a refreshing sight, using the Britannia campaign to produce an excellent and engaging read following Edward Plantagenet and his attempt to unite the British Isles. I don't believe that one needs to use such a unique idea for an AAR to produce a well-written, engaging and interesting AAR. Occasionally, simplicity is best!

    From the Editor's Desk

    Well, there it is. We hope you liked it. Please feel free to post with your comments on this issue.

    And if you have a hankering to write for the Quill yourself, then I am just a PM away.

    In the meantime, please consider repping our writers whose enthusiasm and hard work help to illuminate the creative writing scene at TWC. This time they have been: Saint Nicholas, ♔The Nanny♔, Hitcher, Katsumoto and Lord de Lyonesse. Give them a big hand!

    So, farewell then... 'till the next Issue.


    Last edited by Juvenal; April 22, 2011 at 01:41 AM. Reason: fixing Script competition review link
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  2. #2
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
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    Apr 2006
    The Home Counties

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    The Scriptorium 2010 Writing Competition

    Another Scriptorium competition, another abject failure for my own entry.

    Luckily I use an electric shaver, so I think my chances of surviving long enough to launch another dud into the fray when the next competition comes around are still good.

    If you can't be bothered with my reviews, you will find the winners posted here.

    Librarians' Choice
    The Heartbeat in the Deep
    By Justinian
    When you deal with the Devil, make sure your Life Insurance is paid-up.
    The story

    That day the bombs fell.

    The city was torn limb from limb, cell from cell. All was chaos and fire, the roars of the bombs drowning out the screams of the people below. The bombs fell on skyscrapers and streets, blasting through the foundations of mighty steel and glass monuments to the ingenuity of man. They collapsed in a maelstrom of dust and flame. Shrapnel from millions of shattered windows shrieked through the air, slicing through the fleeing mass of humanity that choked the streets below. The bombs fell on cars and buses, homes and churches, vaporizing every man, woman, and child. Molten metal dripped from the skeletons of buildings, boiling in the streets below. Every living thing was burning; nothing was left but ash and blood. What was there to do but run?

    So I ran. I ran through torn up and blasted streets, littered with the rubble of eviscerated buildings and the broken bodies of the people within; I ran past burning schools and collapsed hospitals, perfect rings of carnage surrounding epicenters of flame; I ran past places I knew, restaurants I had eaten in the day before, the coffee shop I went to every morning. I recognized nothing; I had no time to feel pain, empathy, or loss. There was only me; if anyone else was left alive, I wasn’t looking. All I could hear was my own heartbeat and the rushing of blood in my ears, and it seemed as though each beat of my racing heart was accentuated by the blast of a bomb. The sounds drew closer and closer. How was I to outrun an inferno?

    I could not give up. I sucked in air clogged with smoke and the fumes of burning flesh and kept on running. I was crying, but it was from the wind in my face. For what felt like hours, all I could see was grey smoke and rubble, burning buildings – but then, suddenly, I saw a flash of green between the flames. I ran towards it, each stride harder and harder as exhaustion threatened to overcome adrenaline. Somewhere in my mind I recognized that it had to be the park. Even though I knew nowhere was safe from the bombs, the somehow undisturbed green of the park offered some semblance of hope.

    Suddenly I was running on grass and the air seemed clearer; the smell of destruction and death no longer filled my lungs. I could hear the bombs in the distance, but here it seemed quieter, safer. I sank to my knees in the grass and sucked in a deep breath. I could not recognize where I was. Not too far from me I saw what looked like a cave, a pit of darkness set in the side of a hill. Was it a crater? It could not have been there before.

    A bomb detonated on the street behind me, blasting my back with heat and glass, and another boom filled my ears. I bolted back to my feet and ran towards the darkness. Cool air whispered out from the tunnel, blowing across my face. The fire could not reach me in there. I tripped at the opening, tumbling face-first into the darkness and rolling like a ragdoll down, and down, and down, until at last I stopped and all was silent.

    My own labored breathing was the only sound down in the darkness. It took many long deep breaths before my terror began to subside, before I felt safe from the bombs. Eventually I pulled myself up from my stomach and sat there. I knew if I sat and waited too long, the realizations would set in. That everyone I knew was dead. That my world was destroyed. I couldn’t face that. Instead I focused on the darkness that enveloped me, trying to see something, anything – but the pitch black was impenetrable. My heartbeat started to rise again, thumping in my ears. What if I was inches away from falling into the bowels of the Earth? What if there was no way to get back up?

    What if I wasn’t alone?

    I tried to fight the sudden grip of fear in my lungs. I took deep breaths again. “You just survived a ****ing bombing, you can handle this,” I said, and I was startled by my own voice. Cracked, rasping. I sounded like an old man. A thought flashed through my head, and I fumbled through my pockets, searching, searching – I felt it, an oddly comforting lump in my pocket. My lighter. “Smoking will kill you, they said,” I murmured to myself, laughing nervously. It echoed. I pushed the lid up and flicked once, twice. Finally it lit, blindingly bright compared to the darkness.

    I blinked hard until my eyes adjusted, focusing first on the lighter’s flame, then beyond. All I could see around me was dirt; I was in some kind of tunnel that stretched out beyond what I could see in the dim light, sloping downwards. Behind me was a steep rise; I must have fallen harder than I realized. I noticed that my pants felt wet, and I wondered miserably if I had pissed myself when the bombs fell, touching the fabric to be sure; but when I brought my fingers to the light, they were red. The sight of my own blood shocked me for a moment, but I took a deep breath. Now was not the time to be a pussy. I’ll be fine, I thought. I’ll be fine.

    I rose to my feet, grateful for the ceiling above my head, and reached back to touch the steep slope behind me. For a moment I tried to pull myself up, but it was impossible; the dirt came away in my hands and I fell back to my feet. “You can either sit here or do something,” I said, the sound of my own voice more comforting than deafening silence. I took a deep breath and walked carefully forward, bent over so that the lighter illuminated the ground. I went like this for a while, hoping that the ground would begin to slope upwards again; but it kept going down. I looked behind me and couldn’t see where I had began.

    “Why are you here?”

    I shouted and dropped the lighter, plunging the tunnel back into darkness and my heart into my throat. I clawed out for it and tripped, falling heavily onto the hard ground, deaf to anything but the blood rushing in my ears. “Who are you?” I asked, my voice sounding frail and scared, echoing loudly in the confined space.

    “I don’t remember,” came the voice again; it was feminine, yet entirely alien to my ears. It had some echo, some strange undercurrent that raised the hairs on the back of my neck and made my teeth grind. There was a pause, and I could not find the courage to speak.

    “Why are you here?” the voice repeated, and I rose to my knees, fumbling in the darkness for the lighter.

    “I was running, and came down here,” I said after a moment, breathing heavily. The initial shock of her voice was beginning to fade; I took a deep breath, my fingers brushing against something cool and metal on the ground and closing around it.

    “Running from what?” she asked.

    “The bombing – you didn’t ****ing hear the bombing?” The top of the lighter kept slipping in my fingers; finally it popped open and I pushed down, the tunnel illuminated again, light falling on a slight frame and a pale face–

    She let loose an ear-splitting shriek, a fist flashing out and knocking the lighter from my hand before I could see the rest of her, and I was blind again. I grabbed for it again.

    “No!” She cried. “He will see you.”

    Something in her voice made me fall silent, peering into the darkness. I saw flashes and spots left over from the light of the flame; or maybe the outline of a person. I reached out a hand uncertainly, brushing against something, and I felt her jerk back in surprise. “I’m sorry,” I said, panic rising in my throat again. “I’m just ... I’m lost and I don’t know where I am. I need the light, I have to be able to see...”

    “Do you? Do you have to?” The bitterness in her voice surprised me, and silence fell over us both again.

    “Who is going to see me?” I finally said.

    “I have forgotten everything but Him, so I do not know … how to describe Him to someone like you,” she said, sounding troubled. “But you don’t want Him to see you. Be patient and I will remember the words. Trust me.”

    “Obviously I don’t have a ****ing choice,” I said, voice rising again. “Just explain where I am!”

    “It is easier to show than to tell,” she said after a moment. I felt her hand brush against me and then slip into my hand. “Follow me. Quietly.”

    I felt her hand move away, tugging me slightly, and I took an uncertain step after her, blind in the deep darkness. One small part of me was more afraid of this murky unknown than the bombs above. I followed the faint sound of her footsteps, each taking us deeper and deeper into darkness. The blood rushed in my ears.

    Slowly, so slowly I almost didn’t notice, the complete blindness was tempered by an ethereal light that tinged the darkness faint red. It flickered like a candle, rhythmically pulsing darker, brighter, darker, brighter. It illuminated vague shapes in front of me: the woman who led me, our hands, our footsteps.

    “Where is the light coming from?” I asked.

    “Shh,” she hissed, holding up a hand in front of my face. I was glad I could see it. “Listen.”

    At first I could hear nothing but our breathing; but slowly I could make out a sound underneath it, a heavy rumbling that hung in my head like a bad dream. Thump-thump, it boomed, the ground shaking with each beat. We took a few steps forward and it grew louder and louder, booming and crashing like some primeval drum beating in the bowels of the earth, over and over and over again. It rolled like rhythmic thunder, the light throbbing to match each beat. The hairs rose on the back of my neck. “It’s a heartbeat,” I whispered.

    “Yes. It is His heartbeat.”

    “What do you mean – who is ‘He’?”

    “Listen,” she said, taking a step closer to me. “He is a Demon, and this is His hell. He rules it all, from the maggots wriggling in the dirt to the souls who are trapped here forever.” She pointed to herself. “Everything here is inexorably tied to Him. We are His slaves, condemned eternally to His service by fate, by blood.” My eyes widened, but she held a finger up to my lips. “There are many more than I. We each came down here like you, running away from something, lured into the darkness. But it is
    a trap.

    “Every century, the Demon pulls another soul into His hell. Each soul has one chance to kill Him, and only one chance. Failure is damnation. As His heartbeat continues, so does our slavery; when it ends, if it ends, our souls are released.”

    “Bull****,” I finally gasped.

    “Hmm.” Her head tilted to the side, but her face was obscured by shadows. “It could be. I could be lying to you, toying with you. But you are here, are you not? What else is there to believe?”

    “If you’re His … slave, why are you helping me?”

    “It is my duty,” she said after a moment. “A duty I take gladly, for each new soul is a chance, a slight chance to be free. I guide those who have fallen into this trap; I give them what assistance I am allowed; and I hope that they are smart enough to free us all.” She paused, and took a step closer to me. “For years beyond counting, I have been disappointed. Over, and over, and over again. Perhaps you, at last, are the one who will free us all. Or you will be just another disappointment, another century of hopelessness.”

    Her words slowly sank in. My disbelief eroded with each heavy beat in the ground below. My heart grew heavier, my shoulders slumped under the weight of inevitability: what she was saying was true. I could feel it. “I can’t run away, can I,” I said numbly, my voice quiet.

    “Of course not. It wouldn’t be much of a trap if you could just walk out.” She laughed. I didn’t think it was very funny. “Do not despair,” she said, her voice softening. “It is not an impossible task. Many have tried and all failed, but that does not mean you can‘t succeed. It isn’t hopeless. If it was, it wouldn’t be much of a game.”

    I looked up slowly. “A game?”

    She laughed again, bitterly. “Yes. A game. Or perhaps a show. This --” she gestured around to the tunnel illuminated by the red light, “it is all for amusement. Not only for His amusement, but for the others. I have never seen one of them, but sometimes … when a new soul fails … you can hear them laughing.”

    I swallowed hard and fought back the fear in my throat again.

    “But it is a game, a show,” she continued, “and like any good game, it has rules, it has a winner, a loser. It’s fair. If it wasn’t, the audience wouldn’t care.”

    Almost as if she could feel my fear, she reached out and took my hand again. Her fingers were as cold as ice. “If you are not confident, you have no chance,” she said bluntly. “Whether you fail or succeed, it is the greatest test you will ever face. You were chosen by fate to do this; it is your destiny, one way or another.”

    I took a deep breath and nodded. “What do I do?”

    She laughed and pulled my hand, taking me further down. The light grew brighter until I could see all around me, clearly make out black hair that spilled almost to dirt. In the light, I could make out another person, and I started.

    “It is one of us; he will not hurt you. Slaves we may be, but the Demon cannot make us attack a new soul – it would ruin the game.” She gestured towards him. “We cannot remember our true names, only the names the Demon gives us. Call him whatever you wish. Of course, he can’t answer you,” she said, and then turned around, brushing back her hair. Finally I could see her face under the light. I recoiled, bile rising in my throat.

    Her face was pale as ivory and stained with blood. There were two gaping scars where her eyes should have been, criss-crossed by thick black threads up and down her eyelids. With each pulse of the demonic heart, the thread shimmered. “If your eyes displease Him, He sews them shut. If your ears affront Him, He sews them shut.” She gestured to the other figure. “If your mouth offends Him, He sews it shut.”

    I covered my mouth, revolted. “I’m so sorry…”

    “Why? It’s not as if you did this to us. Right?”

    “I … what--”

    She laughed again. “You humans are so amusing.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the other stare at her, then quickly look away, as if he knew that I saw him.

    “Aren’t you one too?”

    “Too long ago to remember,” she said, shaking her head. “Or to matter. Come, I’ll explain the rest,” she said impatiently. She started walking and I followed her, deeper into the abyss. “The rules of the game are simple. You will ask Him three questions, and He must answer without lying. You will be given a knife that can pierce His flesh, and a torch born from His own soul. He cannot kill you before you ask all of your questions, or until you attack Him yourself. Be warned: everything I say is true, but designed to trick you. You are not supposed to win. Not without being very clever.” She paused and looked straight at me with her empty eyes. “Nothing is as it seems. You understand?”


    “Are you ready?”

    “What?! No!”

    “That’s too bad, because we’re here.”

    I took another step and the tunnel widened out into a cavernous room. It was so bright it hurt my eyes; flames burned across the walls, coursing through the cavern like blood through veins. The thunder of His heartbeat echoed through the chamber; with each beat, the flames burned brighter. At the center of the flame, a pulsing mass of burning flesh twitched rhythmically to the heartbeat. It was a swollen black heart, pumping flame with each beat; twisted around it was a corpulent pile of flesh and bone, a face, legs, a mockery of a human.

    “What’s this?” A voice like thunder rolled across the cavern, followed by faint echoes, a hiss and a roar in one. My teeth grated. “Has it really been a century again?”

    I turned, reaching out for my guide, but she was no longer by my side. She stood across the room with a host of pale-faced, emaciated figures, each with eyes or ears or mouths sewn shut.

    “Come here,” the voice boomed, and my feet shuffled me forward closer and closer to the heart.

    Two burning eyes regarded me from some twisted skull above the heart. A jaw opened, a booming laugh and tendrils of smoke escaping it. “It’s about time.” One of the figures scurried up behind me and dropped a shimmering knife and a torch on the ground, then ran back. “Come and kill me,” the voice mocked.

    I reached down slowly, took a deep breath, and picked up the knife and the torch. I walked towards him, swallowing hard and staring directly into the smoldering eyes. They regarded me curiously.

    “You have three questions before you join the damned.” The demon pointed a withered arm towards the deathly silent spectators. “Take your time. I have little else to amuse me for the next century.” He drew in a deep breath and a wheel of flame encircled his withered arm, coursing through the bone and sinew. Instantly it grew, fiery claws bursting from underneath fingernails, flame oozing from his black skin.

    I took a deep breath. “What is the capability of these things I‘ve been given?”

    “Don’t you know?” He tossed his head, breathing smoke. “Your knife can cut only a small part of my flesh. The flame is mine, and will only make me stronger.”

    His eyes watched me, quietly. I took another deep breath. “How do I kill you?”

    The demon laughed again, a booming laugh that prickled my spire. “You are not so clever as you think. They have all asked this,” he said, a hand gesturing to the figures. “As you can see, they didn’t like the answer.” He laughed again, the crowd shuddering with each grating sound. “I will give you the answer I gave them: the only thing that can harm me is the flesh of my flesh, the blood of my blood.” I swore I saw a smile, fire dripping from the corner of his mouth.

    “I know that you can’t kill me until I ask the final question.”

    “Regrettably.” I saw another grin, black teeth outlined by embers. The claws scratched along the ground again. I looked at those black talons, at the flame that coursed around them, flame that coursed over black skin that shimmered to the beat of his heart. In that moment, a strange hope glimmered in me. I knew I what to do.

    I looked into the Demon’s eyes and smiled.

    I turned and ran towards the crowd of spectators. I grabbed one of the figures, pulling him closer to me and raising the knife quickly, hellfire shining down its blade. His eyes flashed between its point and me, lips trying to move but held shut by the thread. Thick, black thread that shimmered with every thundering beat of the Demon’s heart.

    The knife flashed quickly against one stitch, slicing cleanly through it. The figure’s eyes widened and I saw in them a reflection of flame. Quickly, I fell to the ground, rolling.

    The flaming claws flashed through the air where I had just stood, leaving behind a trail of smoke and ash. “I don’t have to kill you,” the Demon snarled, flashing the claws out at me again. I ducked out of the way, slipping behind the figure and holding him in front of me, quickly slicing through the threads until I could pull one free, a long, black coil that burned my skin.

    The claws flashed at me again and I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, the torch flying from my hands. I fell hard, face-first into the ground, but I still had the knife and the coil of thread clutched in my hands. I rolled out of the way of His claws, staring into His eyes again.

    “Well done,” the Demon bellowed, laughing. “But do you think you can kill me with one tiny little piece of me? You think a thread can fell a Demon?”

    “No,” I said. The claws flashed towards me again and this time I rolled out of the way, slamming the knife down into the ground and pinning the flaming arm into the dirt. Instantly, more flame coursed around it, strengthening the arm and slowly forcing the dagger out of it as his flesh grew.

    I ran to where the torch lay, still burning. I thrust my fist into the flame, wrapped in the thread. The fire coursed through my veins and devoured my skin, but the thread grew instantly. It fed off the fire, growing thicker and thicker in my hand, bursting into a black spire coursing with flame.

    “Flesh of your flesh,” I said, laughing, the pain
    forgotten as the thread grew stronger. The claws flashed at me again, but this time I lifted the spine; they crashed together with a horrendous shriek and crack of bone, and one claw fell to the ground. The Demon shrieked and recoiled, bellowing something in a language that burned in my ears.

    I ran towards Him, the spine clutched between both of my hands. “My last question, Demon,” I roared. “Are you afraid?”

    The spine sank deep into the black heart. The Demon roared, bleeding fire, enveloping me, boiling my skin away -- but when the flame touched the spine it grew, splitting the heart in two.

    An ear-splitting shriek escaped the Demon as the fire within faded. The cavern was enveloped in brilliant blood red flame, which pulsed with one last thundering heartbeat and then went out. I collapsed to the ground as the heart withered to ash, receding into the sunken chest of a broken beast that might have once been a man.

    “Thank you,” a voice whispered from the ashes. Then all was silent.

    The threads blinding, muting and silencing the crowd dissolved and slipped away. A chorus of gratitude filled my ears as each tortured soul was released. One by one they crumbled into dust and withered away, until all were gone. All but one.

    My guide walked up to me and laughed. She was stunningly beautiful, long black hair cascading around a perfect face, full lips curved into a wonderful smile. She had eyes now, brilliant blue eyes that bathed the entire cavern in soft light. I had never seen a more beautiful sight in all my life.

    “Well that certainly was amusing!” she said, clapping her hands together joyfully, the words spilling out of her mouth like music. “I didn’t expect you to get that far! They‘re usually so very disappointing, but you…”

    “W… what? Why didn’t you disappear with the rest of them?” I asked, groaning in pain from the burns that covered my body. She laid a cold hand against my shoulder, and the pain all over me numbed and faded, calm filling my aching bones.

    “Why would I have? They’ve all been dead for a long, long time. Only their souls have been trapped here by the Demon, tortured for millenia. You have finally released them from their bonds, released their souls to heaven or hell or wherever they’re supposed to be.” She smiled, her eyes so bright I could see nothing else. “You really ought to be proud. No one‘s done it in two thousand years, you know. I‘ve lost a lot of bets.”

    “I don’t understand,” I coughed, staring into her eyes.

    She shook her head and sighed. “It really is a shame,” she said, patting me on the head. “You did so well. Ah, well, it‘s not like you‘re the first one.” She bent down and kissed me on the lips, and a tingling warmth spread from my lips throughout my entire body. Then she stood and walked away.

    “No! Where are you going!?” I screamed, reaching after her. “Don’t leave me!” My eyes widened as the tips of my fingers began to peel and crack, the skin fading away to ash gray and then to black, my bones crumpling as crippling pain erupted from my chest. I screamed, clawing at my ribs, as the warmth from her kiss turned to flame beneath my skin. A sound began to fill my ears, a sound that reverberated in the cavern around me from deep beneath my chest, a familiar sound...

    She turned and blew me a kiss. “The show must go on!”

    My chest burst into flames and then split open, my burning heart shattering my ribcage, my body withering around it as it twitched and grew and pumped fire through my veins. A cacophony of shrieking laughs filled my ears.

    Then the only sound was the constant beating of my heart. The Heartbeat in the Deep
    The review

    A rather splendid story of the occult. The structure is familiar, but this actually strengthens the story since it makes the necessary suspension of disbelief required for good immersion easier to achieve.

    An anonymous protagonist fleeing some great danger inadvertently falls into the trap of a powerful evil force. He acquires a mysterious advisor, and learns that to avoid eternal damnation he must solve a puzzle with strict rules.

    The opening section felt a little too much like a Hollywood blockbuster chase-scene... perhaps slightly too many explosions. But, no matter, it was really there just to set the scene. The meat of the story is the puzzle and how our protagonist tackles it. I must say that this was very well handled. We are given plenty time during the build-up to ponder the difficulty and significance of the puzzle. Tension is created as the protagonist begins his task with no idea of the solution. Then when he gets an insight, almost too late, its nature is not explained to the reader. So we are left to divine his intentions by observing his efforts to put them into effect. This gets the reader firmly on-side and set-up for the inevitable twist.

    Please be aware there must be a twist, this kind of story would fall flat without it. As with the puzzle, it is well-conceived, surprising both protagonist and reader. Yet once known the twist acquires a sense of inevitability, demonstrating it to be an integral part of the story, not something alien tacked on for cheap dramatic effect.

    Anyway, you don't really need me to tell you that Justinian is a good writer, just go look at his medals! And don't forget to read the story if you haven't done so already.

    Second Runner-up
    Mughal Mountain, Part I.
    By Trey
    The journey of a humble Roman Auxiliary to seek acceptance and enlightenment in the Mystic East.
    The story

    Once upon a time, there was a battle hardened mercenary by the name of Julius Barca. Carthaginian by birth, he had experienced racial discrimination as in the auxilia for the armies of Rome during the 3rd Punic War. So after that he got ticked off and left the army. But then he heard they were going to execute him for desertion so he went east. Wandering through the Saharan desert, he ran into a one eyed Sufi mystic by the name of Aziz.
    What Aziz looks like:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    He has one eye and dark brown skin. He wears half broken glasses. He has a scraggly beard that is infested with lice and wears an orange beany and looks somewhat like a transient. In other words kind of like Rum.

    Julius accosted him, saying:
    "You old fool! Why are you in the desert like this!? And what are those things on your face!"
    Aziz responded with kindness:
    "My son, I see the sadness in your eyes. You should not weep. This desert is very dry and you will lose moisture. You must learn from the camel because I have never seen a camel cry and they can live for a long time in the desert"
    Julius was flabbergasted:
    "You wise fool, you benevolent man, I humbly ask of thee penitence for my transgressions. I have been cast out from those who were my friends because of the color of my skin. I got kind of sad because of it"
    Aziz, in his wisdom encouraged him:
    "My son, seek out the land of battle hardened warriors, who accept all those who can fight, no matter their race, religion, creed, or gender. It is called Mughal Mountain"

    Julius was encouraged, and set of for this wondrous place (But before he left he smoked Hookah with the mystic and passed out in his tent, but the mystic didn't pass out). Along the way, he visited wondrous sites such as the Pyramids, the Nile, and he even read books at the Library of Alexandria! After being educated from this fount of wisdom, he was now more than a warrior, but a scholar too! So now he could plan battles and tactics.

    After awhile he found himself in the mountains of what is now Afghanistan. He wondered what hardy men could live in such a place, when he spotted some of the locals off in the distance committing some of the most unnatural acts he had ever seen:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Two men wearing well worn turbans and finely groomed beards and having flowing robes and dirty sandals were climbing up a rock, as if they were mountain goats. They appeared to be slapping each other's rear ends with an RPG while laughing and dancing as if in celebration. Such a thing was unheard of where Julius was from. "We only sacrifice children, we don't do this shiz" Julius said, trying to absorb what he saw. Clearly he was having trouble recovering from such a traumatic event. But he was strong so he moved on.

    "If only I had a Hind to strafe these unbelievers" he thought to himself.

    After that he continued down into the Northern reaches of الهند aka India. Because he was a polyglot he learned languages really fast, and asked the locals where Mughal Mountain was.
    "Do not ascend to that accursed place, many dangers are present there. Warriors from the four corners of the earth have been cast out like lepers of this village"

    Julius was not afraid, he was a warrior of fine pedigree! His will was strong! He had no lack of courage! He must have justice! He climbed up the mountain where he met the village elder.
    Village elder:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The village elder looked not unlike a Roman, however he had longer hair and a 5 o'clock shadow. He was rather short, and dressed in the armor of the Rice Eaters. He also was a crazy mofo into pyramid schemes, but Julius hated economics in school so he couldn't be bothered with such things.

    "Oh wise leader!" Julius cried out,
    "how do I become like one of you?!"
    The village elder slowing replied,
    "You must defeat a warrior of great regard. And not use medicine. And you must also deposit money into our bank account of increasing increments over a period of time"
    "God Damn!" Julius replied,
    "You truly ask much of me, but to whom much is given, much is required"
    So he departed from the mountain in search of an honorable opponent.
    Coming back into the village, he spotted a warrior of great regard.
    Warrior of Great Regard:
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    This warrior will be described at a later date.

    He trembled in fear at the sight of his insurmountable mustache. He moved on, seeking one who he could defenestrate from behind.
    To be continued...

    The review

    So, what is one to make of this story? It starts out looking like a school-boy's attempt at writing an historical epic, peppered with anachronisms and modern idiom and language. However, the anachronisms soon become so outrageous it becomes obvious they are intentional.

    The protagonist is Julius Barca who fights in the Roman Auxilia during the 3rd Punic War (149 - 146BC). He is Carthaginian, yet has a Roman name and belongs to the Roman Auxilia which was not first formed until 30BC.

    Julius deserts due to racial discrimination (from Tunisia it is presumed) and heads east (shouldn't it be south?) into the Sahara where he meets Aziz, a Sufi mystic, Sufism being a branch of Islam that first developed around 660AD. Aziz wears spectacles! (invented in the thirteenth century). They smoke a hookah pipe together (invented in the sixteenth century India after the introduction of tobacco from the Americas by the Europeans). Julius is advised to seek out Mughal Mountain where mercenaries are welcomed regardless of racial characteristics (incidentally the Mughal – or Mongol – Empire of India is sixteenth century).

    Julius heads east, stopping at the Library of Alexandria to research battle tactics (as a runaway deserter, how did he get access?). In Afghanistan (not Bactria?) he comes across tribesmen slapping each other with RPGs, and ends up at Mughal Mountain being invited to join a pyramid selling-scheme in India, and to challenge a renowned warrior in single-combat!

    So what is the point of all this? The historical references are mocking, the story has no conclusion (it is entitled Part I of a purely fictional longer work), and it doesn't really contain any good jokes (apart from some puns, such as that in the final sentence).

    I think the idea is to encourage the reader to follow their own tangents from the increasingly surreal imagery in the story. Each time you read something anachronistic or arbitrary, you are brought up short, and find yourself thinking around the the subject. The whole thing is a kind of starter-kit for daydreams, giving you a whole set of potential starting points from which your mind can float serenely off into the Aether!

    First Runner-up
    The Letter
    By Maurits
    An epic story of Romans and the Sea.
    the story

    "Naval battles are more terrible than land battles, for the victors come out beaten and battered, and the enemy - well, there is nothing left to be said of them. They are shattered"

    It was a warm afternoon in June, and Tacitus was standing on the roof of his house. The air baked, and on the highway no one was to be seen. Then, suddenly, a small breeze touched his skin. At times, some of these would blow inland from the wide seas that surrounded the Italian peninsular. When he was lucky enough to meet one, his thoughts were drawn to these masses of water behind the horizon. They were mysterious, beautiful, but also very dangerous for the people that didn’t know how to tame them.

    A cloud of dust appeared in the distance, just behind the top of a hill that blocked his sight in that direction. Tacitus wondered who would travel at this hour of the day. Only the most urgent of messages were delivered when the sun sent its burning death to all who dared to challenge her. Soon the rider emerged from the dust, and Tacitus wondered where he would be heading for. He was surprised when the rider rode to his villa. Quickly, he shouted some orders to his slaves, to give the man water and bring him onto the roof. ‘’My lord’’, he said when the man arrived on the roof, ‘’what tidings do you bring me?’’

    For a moment the man was silent, as if he didn’t know what to say. Then he answered: ‘’Noble lord, I bring you a message from your friend Marcus. He said that it was of the utmost importance that you receive it as soon as possible.’’ He gave him the letter, and bowed while he left the roof. Tacitus opened the letter, wondering what Marcus had written him. He had been writing for five years on his Great Historiae, and Marcus was one of the people that collected sources for him. He wondered what he had discovered, and thought to be so important! He broke the seal, and started reading…

    ‘’Marcus Tacitus Suo S. (Marcus says hail to his friend Tacitus)

    Noble friend, for several years you have been writing about the great deeds of our ancestors, and I know that you’ve only added the ones that have been of great importance for our Republic. But now I’ve seen and participated in deeds so valiant, and so important, that I think it would be justified to add them to your Historiae. Will you, my dear friend, write them down so they will be remembered for all eternity, so that no one will ever forget the valiance showed by the Roman sailors?
    It all started three months ago. After half a year of training the VI Classis Venetum, a small but highly disciplined fleet, set sail under command of Nauarchus Decimus. I was serving as centurion on one of the smaller ships, with eighty sailors under my command. The trierarchus, or the captain, was a friend of mine. He was a tall and heavy-built man called Titus. The sailors would row, handle the sails, and when in combat I would lead them towards the enemy ship. The trireme that we used had four small ballistae and a catapult, beside its main ram that was clad with iron. Under my command were further optio Lucius and an artillery officer called Publius. Due to the small staff, the officers of the ‘Hercules’ soon became friends, and we had a nice time together.

    After two days of sailing (we were at the middle of the Mare Superum), a heavy wind started blowing. Above the noise of the heavy drums from the belly of the ship, we heard the high sound of the wind and the hearts of many a good soldier were troubled by these ill forebodes…

    ‘Centurio,’ a young sailor said, while asking permission to enter, ‘Would you like to eat in your room, or will you join the trierarchus tonight?’

    Marcus, this being his first long voyage at sea, was only able to bring forward a grumble before he threw his breakfast out. ‘O, beg your pardon sir, I didn’t know that you were ill…’ the young man stammered.

    ‘Is it always like this on the sea?’ Marcus moaned, ‘How can you live when the flour moves two meters up and then four down?’

    The man laughed. ‘You’ll get used to it, sir. But we all pray that we’ll miss the storm that’s heading in this direction. If we’re caught by that one, we’ll face greater dangers than missing a meal or two…’

    Marcus went silent. After he’d dismissed the soldier, he went to Titus, who stood on the deck. He was looking into the east, with a troubled look on his stern face. ‘It’s faster.’ He said to himself. ‘We won’t be able to reach a port before it gets us…’

    I have never been so afraid, my friend. Not even in the middle of a battle you’ll see the despair and helplessness of men caught upon a sinking ship. But I’ll tell you my whole story. After we’d rowed for a few hours against the current, the sky turned into the deepest blue. It seemed that our small fleet was embedded in the water, for at the horizon the air and the water mingled into a blue line in which no one could discover the least sign that we were close to land.

    The wind howled in the mast, while big gulfs crowned with foam hit the ship. Cries of despair went up, and despite all their effort the men weren’t able to row it towards the safe harbor. They had become a toy. A toy, that played a terrible game against the dark sea and the storm. A game for survival.

    While the heavy rain scourged our faces, we weren’t able to see any other ship. ‘How do you know where to go to? And how will we find the other ships after the storm?’ Marcus cried against the wind towards Titus.

    The trierarchus answered with his loud voice: ‘According to my calculations we could find land any moment now. There we’ll have to try to find a shelter and look for the others when this weather’s past by.’

    They stood there, wrestling with the currents to keep the control over the vessel. Suddenly, they heard blood chilling cries above the wind, and then a man standing at the front of the ‘Hercules’ cried: ‘There are reefs! Go back, turn her!’ Then they threw the rudder towards the other side, and while doing so they saw where the cries had come from. At their rear the Poseidon, another galley of their fleet, lay at its side while the waves threw the men up and down. They were thrown against the cliffs and drowned. They managed to turn the ship, but couldn’t do anything for their friends, who were dying in front of their eyes. It seemed that their mission had come to an end before it had even started…

    After hours of darkness and fear, the wind finally lost strength and the sea became a bit calmer. We rowed alongside the coast in order to find a port. There we would wait for signs of the other ships, and take in some fresh food and water. Two hours later a soldier cried ‘Port ahead!’, and a small town came in sight. I was very happy that we were finally going to have land under our feet again. Then, we saw a ship. It was the ‘Augustus’, another trireme of our fleet. We joined it, and later the ‘Apollo’ came rowing into the port. Its mast was broken in two parts, but the sailors quickly repaired it. The officers of the remaining ships gathered, and we decided that we’d wait for one day for the other ships. If we hadn’t got a sign of them by then, we’d sail out again to kill those pirates. Our duty was of such importance that it couldn’t be delayed. Every day that we lost, merchant vessels were being attacked and sunk by those barbarians! Being the officer with the longest service, I became commander of the shrunken fleet until we’d find the Nauarchus again. In this state we slept, not knowing what events would happen the next morning.

    The last rays of the sun hit the roof, and then it disappeared. Tacitus put the letter down. What an amazing journey his friend had made! He would surely add this to his Historiae. Tacitus decided to take a break, so he ate some food and then went asleep. The next morning he would continue reading about the events on the Mare Superum.

    The next morning, when it was still cool, Tacitus walked to his atrium and sat there in the shadow of a tree. A slave brought him some bread and wine, and after he’d eaten he thought about Marcus’ letter. Eager to know how his adventures had ended he took it, and started reading the last part.

    When I woke up we were at full sea again, and to my great joy I realized that I wasn’t ill anymore! Finally, I could eat some things on board of the ‘Hercules’. Soon I left my room and walked to the deck, in order to ask Titus if he’d join me for breakfast.

    The captain looked happy, saying: ‘Hail, Marcus. There is a good wind, that’ll blow us to the other side of this sea quickly! I hope that you’re a little better than the last days? You can’t fight pirates without food in your stomach.’

    ‘Sure, Titus, I was just wondering if you’d like to eat a little together. That is, if you can leave your post here.’ He didn’t wait for an answer, knowing that his friend would never skip a meal. He ordered a sailor to prepare some bread and meat for them, and some minutes later they sat down. ‘Against what type of pirates will we be fighting?’ he asked.

    ‘These pirates fight in swift ships, called Liburnians,’ Titus answered. ‘Most of them are manned by about sixty pirates, so we’d have overwhelming numbers. I don’t expect there to be with more than three ships, for our navy has already destroyed many of those filthy barbarians. The only thing is that they outmatch us in speed, so we’ll have to come up with something original in order to defeat them.’

    After they’d eaten, Marcus sat down for a while at the bow of the ‘Hercules’. He had to think of a way to defeat those ships. Once they’d boarded one, it would be easy for them to kill their foes with the superior weapons they’d got. The only point was that their ships were swifter, and could shot them all from a distance!

    For hours he sat there, and then two gulls flew over the ship. They saw a hawk. One tried to attack it, and get the fish it had in its mouth. Of course, it didn’t succeed in getting the fish from the much larger bird. Fascinated, Marcus looked at this action above his head. Then, suddenly, the second gull came down on the hawk. For a moment, the large predator was surprised, and dropped the fish, which was caught up by the other gull. They landed on the deck, and ate the fish. Through cooperation they’d succeeded in reaching their goal. Marcus smiled. Finally, he’d got an idea. Alone his ships wouldn’t be able to catch a single pirate, but through smart cooperation they might manage!

    ‘Marcus,’ Titus shouted, ‘in a few hours we’ll reach the area in which the Illyrians have been spot. Hold your men ready for attack, I’ll sign the other ships to stay close together! Did you see those gulls? They are a good sign! Neptune must have sent them to show that he’ll help us, for they are his children.’

    All men gathered, while Marcus explained the plan. Under the deck, optio Lucius would hide with the legionaries, and the main part of the sailors. At Marcus’ sign they’d come forward and engage the enemy. Publius and his men would do the first action. They’d shoot the Liburnans with burning stones and missiles. After that, they’d make use of the moment to ram them.

    It seemed all clear, and when we prepared for the oncoming battle a great excitement took hold of all of us. It seemed like a relief when sails appeared at the horizon. They drew near quickly. When the men in the mast cried that it were our enemies and that they’d got two ships, I grew restless. This would be my moment. Now I’d have to proof my worth in battle! Thankfully, we outnumbered them by one ship, so once we’d got them it would be easy to take them out. The problem was how to do that! It was a good thing that I had thought about this. Hopefully, we’d be able to use the tactic and by that destroy the enemy! It was good that we’d seen the gulls. It comforted the men that the Gods would be with us in the coming battle…

    ‘Aaah…!’ a man sank down before his feet, with an arrow through his throat. The Illyrians were coming close. Still they stayed far enough away from the Romans so that these were unable to ram them. Missiles went to and fro, while men tried to find cover.

    ‘Attack speed!’ a heavy voice from the belly of the ship shouted, and the rowers started to pull the oars at an incredible speed. The ship cut through the waves, and foam was thrown up against Publius and his artillerists. Every few seconds, a large snap could be heard when ballista’s were fired. After having shot, the men sought protection behind the iron shields that had been put in front of them while they reloaded the weapon. At the enemy ship, men could be seen falling down on the deck, hit by their missiles.

    But they wouldn’t win the battle like this. Before his eyes, Marcus could see his plans unfold in the right direction. The two enemy ships were in between the ‘Hercules’ and the two other ships. This was the moment to unleash the terrible attack that he’d prepared! While Lucius and his men checked their equipment one last time, on the command deck Titus shouted the last instructions to the men on the deck: ‘Light the fire!’ his raw voice sounded. At the same time, ‘Fire ammo!’ was shouted between the artillerists, and the first flaming stones and oil-bags were unleashed to find their way to the enemy. These hadn’t expected this, and soon small fires were burning all over the Liburnians, finding their way through dry wood and pieces of rope. For a moment, they laid there lame, as if they were hit by lightning. This was the moment to pick the ripe fruit from the sea! Titus shouted a few orders, and then the ship started vibrating from the great acceleration.

    Under deck, the rowers where working at their highest speed, after their leader had shouted the ‘Ramming speed’ command. Sweat was streaming down over their bodies, as they moved at the rhythm of the beats. Then, one stopped moving, and another one. They died because of a heart attack. Soon they would have to stop, because no one had the condition to keep rowing at this speed for minutes!

    They had almost reached the enemy that they were aiming for, and now the Illyrians had seen the danger they were in. They tried to row away, while some that were burning like hell because the cooking oil sprang overboard. It was too late. With a great clash and an terrible shock the ram of the ‘Hercules’ ate itself a way into its smaller opponent, and at the same moment a bridge with a large iron point fell down on the enemy deck. ‘For Rome and victory!’ the legionaries shouted, when they streamed over the bridge at the enemy deck. Marcus jumped aboard, and was immediately attacked by two large warriors. He took his gladius, and for a moment stood still while the barbarian hew at him with all his force. At the last moment he sprang aside, and hit the man at his head. A large wound appeared, and blood ran all over his face. In a last severe strike, he managed to scratch Marcus’ arm, after which he was hit in his heart.

    Although freed of his first enemy, Marcus still wasn’t safe. With his sword buried in the large man, he couldn’t defend himself against the other pirate that stormed towards him. Just when he was about to be hit, Lucius jumped over to the Liburnian, and slew him from behind. ‘Thanks, man! This was almost my last fight,’ Marcus screamed to his second. Lucius looked back with a grim face. ‘Take your sword sir. Let’s hit a few of these pigs before they’re all away.’

    With these words, they ran into the fight. Around them they heard the cries of battle, while the men fought on. It was clear that this would be a Roman victory! The few Illyrians that were left grouped around the mast, and one by one they were taken out by the Romans. In the meanwhile, the ‘Apollo’ and the ‘Augustus’, two smaller ships of the fleet, had managed to enter the second Liburnian, and were making good progress in capturing it.

    Then suddenly, when they thought that all was over after defeating the last pirates, men from the belly of the ship started shouting: ‘Fire! She’s on Fire!’ For a moment Marcus was pinned to the ground. Fire! It would mean that their own ship, rammed into the Liburnian, would also burn to the waterline. This would sink both ships, and when they didn’t act quickly many men that had survived the onslaught of the battle could still die…

    Quickly he shouted orders. A group of men with axes started cutting the Liburnian into pieces where it was fastened to the ‘Hercules’, while others tried to extinguish the fires with some water. It didn’t work. Because of the oil-bags, the fire drove on top of the water, and already the lower parts of the ship were so hot that they couldn’t go there. It was a hell. Soon they couldn’t stand on the deck anymore, or they’d burn their feet. Luckily, they managed to free their own ship and sprang on to it. When they were finally separated, the Liburnian started to sink, with fell fires at its deck. The wounded Illyrians cried as they were cooked in the boiling water, before the ship took them with it to the bottom of the sea.

    The others had been luckier. The second Liburnian had been captured, but was sunk because they had too few men to keep it. The ships grouped together, and after that Marcus made up the stats. They had lost sixty men in total, but defeated the Illyrians. Now the trade routes would be safe again, although it was heavily paid for by Roman blood. ‘Men of Rome,’ Marcus cried, ‘Today we have lost many comrades. Today we have suffered, in all dangers of these seas. But today, we are victorious! You have fought bravely, and will certainly be remembered for what you’ve done with me. Go now, and be proud!’ Cheers went up, and soon all were busy repairing the ships. All were tired after the action, and longing for home.


    After we’d defeated the barbarians, we could finally leave the sea. After three days of sailing we ran out of food, but happily we reached our home port that afternoon. The men rested, our wounds were cared for, and after some time I came to fully understand the great deeds we had accomplished. I know that these will be made eternal when you make account of them in your Historiae, and that’s the reason why I made this detailed account and sent it to you with the highest urgency. I know that you’ll do the right thing with it. My noble friend, these are the actions that took place at the Mare Superum.
    VALE MARCUS (greetings of your friend Marcus)

    Tacitus put the letter down. For hours he sat there, thinking about all he’d read. Then, a gull landed at the roof, at his side. For a moment it watched him, and then it flew away, in the direction of the blue depths of the sea. This was a sign of Neptune! Tacitus stood up, walked to his study and started writing. ‘The events at the Mare Superum, victoriously fulfilled by Marcus Aurelius’, the title said. The sun went down, and its last golden rays fell at the mirror of the sea. A place of death and fertility, of gods and brave deeds, but above all the place that would forever keep an important place in the heart of a Roman officer.

    The review

    The famous historian Tacitus provides the setting for this story. It frames the real story which takes the form of a letter to Tacitus for inclusion in his Histories, a work he is in the midst of composing. And so we are pitched into the true story as if we are Tacitus himself reading it, having been assured that it depicts a significant recent episode of Roman valour.

    The letter itself begins in the first-person, but then lapses into a straight third-person narrative, perhaps Marcus the narrator is having an attack of hubris (after all, Julius Caesar also wrote about himself in the third person).

    The letter describes a voyage and a storm and a battle with pirates. The reason and destination for the voyage are not initially explained, but the ships are triremes - warships, so when it is eventually revealed that they are hunting pirates this comes as no big surprise.

    The storm is described in some detail and is actually more frightening than the subsequent battle (which the Romans are confident of winning). It is slightly spoiled by some odd word choices such as: Flour instead of Floor, Gulf instead of Wave, Sign instead of Signal.

    The battle account follows a good arc. The Roman fleet has been weakened by the storm and is missing its commander, while the enemy are known to have an advantage in both speed and experience. Before the fight, the protagonist conceives of a stratagem to improve the Roman prospects. This provides a good framework for the battle account itself, helping the reader identify with the efforts of the Romans to win the fight.

    A big problem with writing an historical story is the danger of introducing anachronisms and other historical errors. Add to this the pitfalls of using a foreign language (Latin) and you are going to find yourself proof-reading for a long time before all the problems are ironed out. For example Tacitus is addressed in the letter as just Tacitus by his friend Marcus, when one might have expected either his full name or Gaius/Publius. Marcus describes the deck of his ship as rising and falling by four metres! (not a Roman measure). Latin plurals are also a problem... Liburnae, not Liburnians for example.

    Still, nit-picking aside, this is a fine straight-forward adventure yarn, with a good structure and a couple of nice plot-devices. I liked the reference to Roman superstition (gulls seen just before the battle, although the hawk is an odd sight out at sea – I would take that as a bad omen myself). I also liked the use of contemporary terms such as Optio, Liburnian, Trireme, Mare Superum (i.e. the Adriatic).

    Perhaps Tacitus decided in the end not to include this particular account, after all having several rowers die of heart attacks during the battle does seem a bit over the top.

    2010 Winner
    By Kaitsar
    Your Sins will find you out.
    The story

    Armageddon dwelt in his corridor, thinking. Some called him Ragnarok, others though of him as "The End of Days", many more named him Shiva. He shrugged, and California suffered a magnitude 7 earthquake. Despite all of his different names, all who believed in him called him God. But not all did believe in him. Those that did knew very little of his true nature.

    He heard everything; the cries of joy, the laughter, even the most minute sounds: a child's skin creasing for a smile, a person blinking away tears of happiness. But not all was well. He also heard the croaks of dying innocents, the fire of weapons that extinguished the lives he loved, the weepings of a family never able to speak to their loved one again. Thousands dies every day. He sighed, and a large typhoon hit the coasts of Japan. He could do nothing. So much power yet so little control.

    All of these thoughts he had had over billions of human years, over and over, thousands of times. Ragnarok had thought all there was to think. There was no thought, emotion, or feeling he had not already experienced. It angered him. People, everywhere, worrying. Worrying of nothing! They hadn't felt, couldn't have felt, true worry, true fear. They didn't know. They knew nothing, nothing! His face tightened in anger, a sinkhole opened in China, killing hundreds.

    And they hurt him! They worshiped him, they preached and predicted his coming, and yet, in their ignorance, the hurt him. He recalled the pain he felt in the year 7,206,942.67, or somewhere in their 1940s. It hit him right between the eyes, a tremendous pain. To him, the pain and aftereffects lasted a mere fraction of a second, compared to the scope of his life, which went on as far back as he could remember, and probably longer. But this pain was so immense it took all he could muster not to stretch and roar. Of course, this would mean the end of the people he loved, yet hated and despised. His feelings for them had maintained their balance for hundreds of their years, but the pain and animosity he felt started to compound, he noticed, in the past few decades. He was more spiteful now than he had ever been in his life, at least the life he could remember.

    They continued to drill and mine and dig into him, bleeding dry his precious lifeblood. He knew they weren't aware, yet he still allowed his loathing of them to grow. It was destined. As their hatred and rejection of him grew, as did his towards them. They were manufacturing their own destruction. He chuckled at the irony of it all and tornadoes ravaged the Midwest of America. His chuckle quickly descended into further anger.

    They hated them! He hated them! They would pay for what they had done to him! They would pay for their ignorance and worries and evil! They would pay for making him listen to their sufferings! Roaring, Apocalypse punched out of the earth's skin, tearing a hole in central Africa, he kicked, draining the Pacific of its contents, he writhed, destroying the buildings and creations of man. Mustering all of his force, he broke through the earth and escaped what had been his eternal prison. The rubble that had been the earth flew into space, never to be seen again. There! They suffered and died for what they had done! They had felt his pain!

    He began to weep.

    The review

    This was indeed a worthy winner. It is short, contains no dialogue and almost no action, yet it succeeds in capturing something deep about the nature of human existence.

    It is a kind of thought experiment. Many of us talk glibly about our duty to look after Mother Earth, to preserve the environment and save endangered species from extinction. But what if we have got it all wrong? What if it is us who are the endangered species, living our lives completely unaware we are no more than vermin living upon the hide of a leviathan?

    Armageddon lies within the Earth, the brief lives of humanity washing over him. He hears every thought, feels every emotion, but they register as an aggregate. Every cruelty that we visit upon each other causes him pain, until eventually he grows to hate us, with apocalyptic consequences.

    I found it to be a fresh and thought-provoking view of God, an all-seeing, all-powerful being that understands us completely, and yet is also at our mercy, destined to suffer until he can put up with us no longer.

    reviews by Juvenal
    Last edited by Juvenal; April 22, 2011 at 01:38 AM. Reason: fixing the link
    imb39 my daddy!
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  3. #3
    LuckyLewis's Avatar Loutre
    Content Emeritus

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    Jun 2006
    United Kingdom

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Nice work Critic's Quill team, great reviews and articles as usual!
    Muh signature is so out of date all muh pictures died.

  4. #4
    Karnage's Avatar Centenarius
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    Mar 2010
    Gatineau, Canada

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Thank you for such a great review
    My work in progress AAR, come and have look.

    L'État c'est moi, The Monarchy of France

    Critic Quills review about my AAR.

  5. #5
    Tim1988's Avatar Vicarius
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    Dec 2009

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Interesting edition as always. Thanks for the mention of my AAR Lewis.
    My Old AARs:
    Uniting a Kingdom - A M2TW:Kingdoms Britannia Campaign
    The Greatest Battles of General Sir Lionel Townshend - A DarthMod Empire Campaign
    Tales of an Old Soldier - A series of DMUC Battles
    My Image Gallery:

  6. #6
    René Artois's Avatar Dux Limitis
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    Aug 2008

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Quote Originally Posted by Karnage View Post
    Thank you for such a great review
    Thank you, for such a good AAR.
    Bitter is the wind tonight,
    it stirs up the white-waved sea.
    I do not fear the coursing of the Irish sea
    by the fierce warriors of Lothlind.

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Um...thanks for the review, I guess (although I thought it was going to be my bigger M2TW one, now complete, but oh well).

    Oh the style, I see previous AARs with endless padding out and flowery prose and it doesn't appeal to me, so the AAR is a very much author appeal scenario. If you don't like that, fair enough. The review seemed to be slightly contradictory, am I being insulting to the the readers intelligence (captions provided as Photobucket/Imageshack have been known to go down, so it provides a frame of reference) or not by jumping around too much without explanation (I figure the reader can easily work it out)? I don't know, but thanks for the critique. Where I can I'll try and expand a little bit, although don't expect too much character work - they die too often.

  8. #8
    Maurits's Avatar ЯTR
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    Dec 2008
    The Netherlands

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Thanks for the review, you certainly have some good points!

    Some comments: please forgive me my grammar, English isn't my native tongue so faults like these might sneak in. You have a good point about the name of Tacitus, I hadn't thought about that one. On the other hand, now people recognise him, so maybe I'd still have done it in this way.

    One thing that you didn't understood (or which I didn't make clear enough ) is the structure: the idea is that we read the letter and are sometimes ''sucked into it'', to create action and still be able to skip the uninteresting periods of time in a ''different'' way. This was my second piece of writing, so I guess that I should be content with the result.

    It was a honour to be mentioned in this famous release! Thanks for the review

    RTR: Imperium Surrectum Team Member
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  9. #9
    Juvenal's Avatar love your noggin
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    Apr 2006
    The Home Counties

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19


    My review is far from definitive, it is really just a record of my thoughts while reading your story. I am painfully aware of how difficult it is to avoid mistakes in historical fiction. I'm sure my own AAR is riddled with historical errors (although I have the advantage of having chosen the Picts and Gaels, about whom not a lot is known in the period of my setting ).

    When writing such a story I think the thing to do is try to question everything. I must admit I don't know myself exactly how Republican Romans addressed each other, so I would simply have been less specific in my description. Given that you are writing an English transliteration of conversations supposedly conducted in Latin, the safest approach is to keep the language generic unless you are deliberately introducing a contemporary reference.

    Another problem (which again affects my own writing), is the need to understand the world-view of your characters. We live in a secular age and take for granted our extensive knowledge of the world. But for the Romans the world was a mysterious and arbitrary place. The Gods were real and very much a part of their lives, needing to be placated by means of prayer and sacrifice. They were a superstitious people, much concerned with signs and portents, and I was pleased to see this referenced in your story (although I think the will of the Gods needed to be brought more into the storm scene as well).

    Anyway, congratulations on your Scriptorium award.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Thank you very much for your kind words. I really miss working on the story but between my job, our farm, and my duties with my church there's not much time. Hopefully I can find time before too long to resume working on it.

  11. #11
    Beorn's Avatar Praepositus
    Join Date
    Jan 2009

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    great work, guys !

  12. #12
    ReD_OcToBeR's Avatar Senator
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    Jan 2009
    The Great White North.

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Good to see some notice and praise for images in AARs in this issue. It is a skill in my opinion to get great shots and able to present them in a good manner which some people think otherwise lol. Nice issue

  13. #13

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Another great issue. Thanks so much to Juvenal for putting this together and to the contributors for their efforts. I especially liked the article by The Nanny on the use of pictures in AARs. It's great to see the perspective from other authors and our different approach to using images to "illuminate" the story.

    The reviews were, as usual, excellent. I may have disagreed on a few points but we all have our opinions (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all).

    Thrilled to have this publication continue as it draws attention to the ongoing efforts of this forum's AARtists.
    Read the review of I am Skantarios! in the Critic's Quill here.

  14. #14
    René Artois's Avatar Dux Limitis
    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    I would just like to say well done to Juvenal for this edition especially. He was ill during the contruction of it so really deserves a good spot of rep for his efforts!
    Bitter is the wind tonight,
    it stirs up the white-waved sea.
    I do not fear the coursing of the Irish sea
    by the fierce warriors of Lothlind.

  15. #15

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Well I appreciate the review, although perhaps the work isn't befitting of notice haha. But it was concise and very accurate about my shortfalls. Hope to improve with the critique.

  16. #16
    Karnage's Avatar Centenarius
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Gatineau, Canada

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    +1 rep to you Juvenal for your hard work
    My work in progress AAR, come and have look.

    L'État c'est moi, The Monarchy of France

    Critic Quills review about my AAR.

  17. #17

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Another great Edition! Thanks for the effort to keep these going, guys!

  18. #18

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 19

    Fair and balanced! It was one of my earlier efforts. If I had to pick, I'd say my write-up of my Lithuanian Campaign was my best effort!

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