Characters in Motion – Shovel Knight

A new DLC chapter has come and gone, and this slacker fangirl hasn’t talked about this game in ten months! It’s time we changed that.

Rather than overanalyze Specter’s campaign just yet, however, I’m going to take a moment to spread the love to all our DLC Knights – and beyond! It’s time we looked at how Shovel Knight uses its own game mechanics to convey characterization. For reals, it’s something even the game’s developers took into consideration when crafting each campaign.

Now, when you think of good characters, what comes to mind? Personality? Dialogue? Dimensionality? Absolutely! Click on that “characters” link in the left-hand column (do iiiit…), and you’re sure to find these attributes already addressed. With Shovel Knight, I’d like to explore mannerism and movement.

Dat shy li’l muffin.

This game may be a throwback to the 8-bit era, but the wonders of modern development give opportunity for more expression in the world our Knights inhabit. Villagers do more than stand at counters or wander two-dimensional streets. They cook meals, measure and study potions, play with hoops and sticks (or…not).

This is a world made alive by its people and creatures, moving and behaving with real emotion. And our Knights? With most of their faces obscured by helmets or masks? Can they exhibit that much life as well? Ohhhhhh heckyes. And then some!

For our DLC heroes (or anti-heroes), dialogue and motivation establish groundwork for who our characters should be. Shovel Knight is an honorable warrior and civil in conversation, even with rivals. Plague Knight is verbally antagonistic but also communicates certain insecurities. Specter Knight is cold, determined, and attempts emotional distance from circumstances and others (but only succeeds to a point…).

If desired, the developers could have given canned movements to these characters – reskinning the different Knights as necessary but retaining a basic movement pattern. Instead, they crafted unique movements for each protagonist according to their prescribed personality:

Shovel Knight’s stride is bold and determined. He pumps his arm in a manner displaying strength and confidence. Plague Knight’s is looser; he doesn’t hold his staff at the ready but lets it swing carelessly in his hand. His attacks carry a degree of unpredictability. And Specter Knight, he leans into his run with his scythe poised for attack – relentless yet emphasizing stealth.

(And I’m sure we can also look forward to King Knight’s swagger in upcoming DLC.)

In a (good) platformer, you can’t have drawn-out dialogue trees to establish the nature of your characters. You can’t give them fifteen minutes to expound on backstory. It’s a medium which operates (literally) in forward motion. Aside from the level bookends which progress the story, how will you explain your characters to the audience? You use the best tool available to you: movement through the levels.

A trained writer will do this too, yes? We know a shy character will move differently from a social character, who will move differently from a depressed character. If you wanted, you could go completely Dickensian and give your cast members identifying verbal and/or physical tics. This is why even in scenes with no dialogue, we can still understand a character completely through how he or she moves. It’s called “body language” for a reason, you know.

And when they’re not moving through levels? Well, Yacht Club Games still uses “show, don’t tell” to excellent effect with quiet moments to offset the platforming chaos.

Even here, in no movement, we can understand Specter Knight. Can you tell what he may be feeling? This is the power of a character’s physicality. It’s something nearly every human being can immediately relate to.


Shovel Knight is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.

Quality Villainy Series – Super Mario RPG

What’s a good story without a great villain? All right, to be fair, there are phenomenal stories where the antagonist is not an individual, but is instead a force, idea, or other non-flesh-and-blood opposition.

But c’mon, we love (to hate) those more corporeal rascals and all the mayhem they cause. So why not look at a few of the greats in this new series I’ve devised? What are the different types of baddies we can find in video games, and how do they teach us to write excellent enmity?

I’m gonna be completely shameless and start us off with my childhood.

I’m imagining the confusion now. “What the crap?” the readers say. ” Why are we looking at a Mario game for tips on writing amazing villains? These baddies are so by-the-book.” Listen here, you little upstarts. You don’t question the greats of the medium. Sit yourselves down and get educated.


(Okay, so maybe that was all a little unnecessary.)

Super Mario RPG boasts some serious randomness, and that certainly extends to its cast of villains. The plot’s primary team, after all, is made up of anthropomorphized weaponry. And what weird-lookin’ weaponry they are…

Add to these fellas a mix of sideline characters of dubious intent, and you have quite the pool to draw from. You have those villains who aren’t necessarily evil, but maybe just a tad deranged and in the wrong place at the wrong time. This leads to some thoroughly memorable characters – there’s a reason SMRPG diehards refer to the maniac manchild Booster so often, after all.

But I’m interested in exploring the nature of a villain whose motives are purely, deliciously devious. Someone who’s completely certain of her malicious intent. Someone who holds the honor of being one of only two female villains in the entire game – and the only one who operates as head honcho over her henchmen. Yes, she definitely has her ways of standing out –

…No comment.

-the illustrious (Queen) Valentina.

Her role in the game (for those who haven’t played – oh, and spoiler alert): in the faraway, isolated Nimbus Land, Valentina has plans to overthrow the present rulers by tricky means. With the king and queen quietly locked away and no one allowed inside the palace, Valentina raises the claim she’s found the long-missing prince of the kingdom, and he’s chosen her for his bride. But why does the prince of a fluffy cloud people look strangely like a giant black toucan…?

So why pick Valentina for this study on excellent villains? It’s true in many ways she’s “by the book” – out for power, going the most direct route by usurping a kingdom’s throne, completely rude and ill-mannered. There’s no subtlety in her designs (tactical or…illustrative). But you know what? Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Too many stories get caught up in the complex motives of their antagonist, or in the “twist” storyline where a seemingly innocent character was wicked all along. As for Valentina, she’s straight up vicious and awful, and there’s something wonderful about that.

See, because of her one-dimensional morality, the writers and developers can have all the fun they want with her. You think a “twist” villain adds interest to a conflict? Fair enough. But I’d rather have Valentina’s openly snide dialogue.

The point of creating villains is to make characters who stand out just as well as the heroes, and you don’t necessarily need complexity or a game-changing one-eighty to accomplish that. That’s why I love Valentina. She knows who she is, the audience knows who she is, and therefore we can delight in her perfectly devilish actions.

Besides, she still breaks the mold in her own way. It’s not every day you see a villainess get her own “happily ever after”.



Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console, or play it through the SNES Classic.

A Study in Dialogue – Lufia II

I can’t honestly defend certain attempts at dialogue in video games. Between some bare-bones plots and early attempts at translation, there have definitely been a few “winners” over the years.

*waggles eyebrows*

But you know, I’d wager there are far more novels on the market that boast worse conversation. Part of that is simply due to a disparity in quantity between the two forms of entertainment; but be that as it may – I’m here to defend the validity of video games as a study-able art form, and dangit if I won’t throw literature under the bus to accomplish that!

Wait…maybe I should reconsider my approach…

Two things your dialogue must, must, must do: convey a character’s communication style (i.e. personality) and establish how s/he fosters relationships with others. After that, your own personal flair is just gravy on the potatoes. Since we all differ in general communication style, it follows that authors will approach dialogue in their own ways as well. But in case you were looking for a little inspiration…’s an unsung story whose transcript can’t be beat.

Now, in some ways this game (and others in its series) works against my argument for the brilliance of video game dialogue.

(Or is this, in fact, a dialogue WIN?)

Stay with me here, though. See, Lufia II knew how to make dialogue work for its characters in a way that even some mainstream RPGs at the time didn’t manage. Oftentimes dialogue was relegated as a vehicle for plot: Characters could have personality and backstory, but these aspects mostly funneled the story and gave little wiggle room for expression. This in itself isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can sometimes make for clunky exchanges.

Lufia II‘s characters, by contrast, speak with a natural, conversational tone. They talk like friends, like rivals, like spouses. They don’t (usually) respond to each other in non sequiturs or in stilted fashion. You can actually hear the manner in which they communicate.

Our lead Maxim tends to be serious and straightforward; his wife Selan is direct and confidant; Guy is the wisecrack of the group; Artea brings solemnity. As the four primary party members, these characters receive ample opportunity to interact, fight, tease, and come to a stronger understanding of each other. Even the extended cast lend dimension and personality – however briefly they enter the scene.

Why is this representation of conversation so important? Well, Lufia II was one of the first games where I felt like I really knew the characters, and much of that had to do with the dialogue flow. They were presented as people instead of something like vessels for an overarching message or theme. Sure, they referenced the plot as necessary for the progression of the story, but Maxim and Selan would also just stop and squabble as a married couple on occasion, allowing a glimpse into their life unrelated to the hovering ultimate destruction of mankind. (It was all the rage in JRPGs back then, you know.)

More fruly excellent localization.

Though there’s nothing wrong with dialogue used as a tool for plot, I like the tales that permit time for character expansion for its own sake. If anything, it gives more fodder for the fan fiction, right?


Lufia II is the property of Natsume Inc. You can play this classic game with a Super Nintendo and cartridge…or settle for the remake.

Stellar Squad Series – Mother 3

They say you can’t choose your family. But sometimes – say, when your mom’s brutally murdered by a reconstructed cyber-animal, your brother goes missing in an attempt to avenge her, and your dad just can’t deal – you may have to cobble a new one together on your own.

And even if they en’t perfect, they’re your homies through the best and worst of it – whether that be chasing down a clayman to retrieve a memory egg, or accidentally ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms while marooned on a tropical island.

(It’s all about context; just go with it.)

Mother 3’s team may be my favorite team ever. I grant you, there’s a sea of games I have yet to play, and many characters and parties I have yet to meet through the experiences those games lend – but I’m telling you: these quirky little nuggets will never be dethroned.

Want to get to know them? I kneeeeeeeeew you’d enthusiastically say yes!


Once notorious as a coddled crybaby, he’s determined to reinvent himself as strong and capable after his family fell apart. Gotta love that cowlick in his hair.



A dog. But more than that, he’s Lucas’s constant companion and even gives sensible advice – if you can interpret his barks, at any rate.


Your resident tomboy princess (or IS she?). A bit crass, and she’s got a mouth, but she’d go to any lengths for her friends. If she requests you take a shower, be careful declining her wishes…



Looks like a bum, walks with a limp, sleeps all day – also plays a mean upright bass (LITERALLY). Past the bad breath and slightly unkempt look, Duster harbors a helping heart. My favorite of the team, I’m not even gonna hide it. He even has his own post.


So, why is this team so great? Well, attempting to set aside my fangirl ravings and approach this from a level-headed, storytelling perspective *calming breath* – each of these characters is a misfit in some fashion (maybe discounting Boney; a dog can only carry so much of a stigma). They come out of hurts, imperfections, and unconventionality to form a bond and stand against a power you wouldn’t think four oddballs had a chance to beat.

Remember how we talked about the relatability of a character in our last video game post? We linked it to personal experience and to quirks/struggles the audience might share with each character. Well, Mother 3 takes that idea and adds the strongest sense of kinship this trilogy has to offer. You get to know each character individually; you get to walk in their shoes for a period of time and understand their life. Maybe you empathize with them. You see their need for love and friendship, so that when they become a team you KNOW the bonds are important to them.

This is relatability cubed. Think of your own idiosyncrasies – what makes you weird and out there . Now think of the people who came into your life with their own oddities and chose to walk your road with you. How deep do those bonds go? How strong is your trust? Would you face a totalitarian pigmask army together with these friends?

That’s what Mother 3‘s team evokes. The theme throughout the series, after all, is love, so what better way to close the trilogy than with camaraderie between unconventional friends? Gets me all warm and fuzzy for my own crazy troupe of amigos. Group hug, y’all!


Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.

Relatable Characters – Earthbound Series

Storytellers try a number of methods to help endear characters to their audience: tragic backstory to tug at heartstrings, diversifying the cast to appeal to a wider range of experience, creating quirks and tics to make a character as immediately unique as possible. Sometimes the attempts can go a little overboard.

Did I mention “radical costuming”?
(I’ve never played this game. Does this dude just really love pizza, or…?)

Here’s a pro tip: if your characters express a sense of humanity, triumph, and fallibility, the audience will relate regardless of other influencing factors.

Still, there’s something to be said for character attributes that quickly grab the audience’s attention. Sometimes they can be the gateway to a deeper emotional bond. But how do you create such quirks in a way that doesn’t seem forced or against the natural flow of the story?

I know EXACTLY the games that can help us solve that question:

*obsession intensifies*

The Mother/Earthbound series’ goal, from the beginning, was to experiment telling a story through the video game medium. For me to compare Mother 1 Earthbound Beginnings to other RPG stories released around the same time would be a little above my pay grade (because yo, I don’t get paid for this), but whatever the case, Itoi knew how to endear his characters to players in an environment that complimented the quirks.

Since the games take place in the “real world”, there’s already some familiarity when we recruit and interact with the cast. This helps set the stage for when we meet what might be considered underwhelming characters, compared to the epic casts of other JRPGs. Your first teammate in Earthbound Beginnings wasn’t some noble warrior sporting a sweet set of armor; it was a nerd with thick glasses hiding in a trash can at his school.

But this is great, because we immediately have a reason to root for this kid: I mean, who HASN’T dealt with bullies in their life? And instead of just getting fed a character bio, we connect with Lloyd through quirks related to his current struggles.

(Remember when we covered character introductions in detail? Man, that was such a great time.)

The trend continues into Earthbound, where your party diversifies beyond the confines of America Eagleland and includes individuals from overseas. (Jeff is totally British, and you can’t convince me otherwise.) A foreign character like Poo, for example, brings a cool, mystical (and highly stereotyped – Earthbound is shameless) dynamic to the cast, which may not necessarily make him relatable, but he nevertheless garners audience interest.

Sometimes the enigmatic draws our emotions through a desire to know more, eh? Poo could also be perceived as a foil to the rest of the party, who – while boss in their own right – don’t exactly exude the same mysterious dignity.

This in particular brings out Ness’s more relatable aspects, such as his tendency toward homesickness. Despite being the game’s hero, he has this childlike fallibility set in stark contrast to Poo’s calm aloofness. While the game doesn’t reveal much through character dialogue, it does an excellent job allowing the player to project their own feelings through the cast. I’d wager more of us know what it’s like to be the homesick little boy than what it’s like to be the serious, dashing prince.

These character traits never feel forced, either. Many are in fact subtly integrated into the battle system itself (Ness thinking of his mom’s steak and missing a turn; Ninten from Beginnings seizing up with an asthma attack). Mixed with the inherent weirdness of the games’ world, the quirks fit seamlessly and allow the audience to connect on their own terms.

…But wait, you might be saying (or not saying, if you’re absolutely lost by this point): What about the cast of Mother 3? Well, have I got a TREAT for you! That party will be receiving an entire post devoted to them in two weeks’ time! Aren’t you EXCITED? (Pretend to be excited.)

…I seem to be developing a trend of dedicating whole months to this series. It’s like they’re my favorite games, or something.


The Mother/Earthbound series is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi. You can purchase both Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound to play via the Wii U Virtual Console.

Final Fantasy: The Legacy

[Currently listening to: Mannheim Steamroller. It’s Christmas, yo!]

Final Fantasy is a Goliath in the video game industry; that goes without saying. This month marks its 29th anniversary, so I figured it’s only due that I give it proper homage.

But I must confess a sad truth: Final Fantasy hasn’t aged well for me. I only ever enjoyed VI and IX growing up, and now even those stories have mostly lost my interest. As for other releases in the series…well, there’s only so many reiterations of K-pop hair that I can take.

But for many, these games are pure gold, even with all the changes they’ve undergone through the past three decades. I’m hardly here to bash any series that’s had an impact on gamers, so instead let me do my best to talk about some of the characters I loved best from Final Fantasy, and why they’ve left a lasting impression on me.

(I caution you, my scope will be limited.)

Cecil Harvey – Final Fantasy IV

This lead protagonist embodied “light vs. dark” in his own journey, from serving a corrupt kingdom to accepting his ultimate role as paladin. I remember when I first played Final Fantasy IV how much I appreciated Cecil’s story. How his questions of right and wrong led him to seek the truth. How the pain he witnessed (and caused) turned him on a redemptive path. He’s no Frog from Chrono Trigger, but his character growth is admirable in its own right.

Locke Cole – Final Fantasy VI

Dashing, chivalrous, clever – Locke knows what the lady gamers love. His character was even pretty much carbon-copied in Zidane six years later, but Final Fantasy IX‘s lead male didn’t have quite the depth of Locke’s character. Why? Well, while Zidane’s helpful nature was based in…pretty much nothing, Locke desperately sought to protect his loved ones because his own past mistakes caused suffering for his beloved, Rachel.

For a game to address relationship “baggage” like that – I think Locke was a pioneer in exploring such themes. Watching him move from loving Celes as a means to clear his conscience to loving her in a way that could let go of past mistakes was a moving story arc.

Kefka Pelazzo – Final Fantasy VI

THE best Final Fantasy villain, hands down. (Suck it, Sephiroth.) Kefka wanted all the clichés: power, destruction, absolute authority – but his motives were so wonderfully…ambivalent through it all. He didn’t have any deep or personal reason for his actions; he just enjoyed manifesting chaos.

Plus, that outfit is outrageous, and I love it.



Vivi Ornitear – Final Fantasy IX

I had so many feels for this cutie. I loved Vivi for his mix of childlike wonder and grown-up understanding of the world – which makes me realize that I hated Eiko (his six year-old female counterpart) for almost all of those exact same reasons. (I don’t know, man. I can’t make sense of my preferences.)

Looking back at the game recently, I was amazed at how almost nothing goes right for this poor boy. I might even say the game pushed that point a little TOO far to make sure its audience properly sympathized with the little black mage. Still, Vivi was one of the first characters whose psyche I really enjoyed exploring, so I suppose he’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Freya Crescent – Final Fantasy IX

The first of a couple strong female characters to round out the list. You might wonder why I’ve picked the rat woman instead of one of the many leading ladies of the franchise. What about Terra, who’s technically the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VI? What about Aerith, Rinoa, or Garnet?

Here’s the thing: leading ladies in Final Fantasy don’t typically have much control over their own story. Even when they try – like when Garnet sets out to stop her mother on her own – the plot tends to move them instead of vice versa.

I like Freya (and Beatrix, as we’ll see) because she enters the picture with a pre-established quest that has nothing to do with the main storyline as we understand it so far. She has her own drive, which, to me, makes her far stronger as a character.

(And she does it all without flaunting a large/barely-concealed chest.)

Beatrix – Final Fantasy IX

(Speaking of large chests…) Beatrix is like the female version of Cecil, in that her questions over whether she’s acting in the right eventually lead her to abandon a path of destruction. She is also the master of her own destiny and makes her own choices, living by fealty to Alexandria’s royal family.

And her romance with Steiner is more frickin’ adorable than any lead romance of any Final Fantasy ever. Try and prove me wrong.

Of course, there are numerous characters I haven’t covered in this post, so if you’re a FF fan, feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comments below.

(Wow, I think I chose a picture from every Final Fantasy art style out there.)


Final Fantasy belongs to Square-Enix. I can’t even condense the many ways you can play these games…

Freebie Fiction – Dragon Quest IV


As previously promised in my last post, here’s a special treat related to Dragon Quest IV.

When I want to practice a writing style or technique, I like to do so through fanfiction (when there’s other, more important things I should be doing with my time). This is a rewrite/interpretation of one scene in the game.

In case you’re wondering, Meena and Maya are the most fun to write. Torneko is the most difficult. Who knew an Irish lilt would be so hard to accurately portray?

Solo stood before the room door, knuckles poised to knock. He tilted his head to look at Maya and Meena waiting expectantly behind him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Should we really bother someone in their own room? I mean, even if he is a Chosen.”

“If it is truly fate, he will not be annoyed by our visit,” Meena said. “You must trust the prophecy’s guidance.”

“Yes, but does the prophecy say specifically that we should knock on strangers’ doors?” Solo persisted.

“Oh, for pity’s sake!” Maya bustled forward. “What is the worst he could do? Smack you with his walking cane? Just be letting me handle this.”

She bumped him roughly to the side and rapped three times on the door. From inside the sound of shuffling feet neared; the door swung open, and there stood the old man, leaning on his staff. He looked Maya over and squinted.

“You are not chambermaid,” he stated. “But perhaps they send you with cloths?”

“Arey? Why would I be sent with your dirty dirty cloths?” Maya said. “We are here to be talking to you about destiny and other such nonsense.”

“Sis!” Meena protested from behind.

The old man looked from Maya to Meena and then to Solo, who attempted his best ingratiating smile.

“I am not interesting in such prattle,” he said. “Please to leave without further pesterings.”

He began to shut the door, but Maya quickly wedged her wrist in the gap.

“Wait! Just be listening for two seconds. The world is going kaput in so many ways, no? What if you could be stopping all the mess and bringing back peace? That is being worth your time, surely.”

Meena couldn’t help gaping as Maya finished. “You…you have said such a beautiful thing, sis. I am stunned speechless! Maybe you are able to be serious after all.”

Just as she gave her praise, Maya wiggled her hips coquettishly. “Besides,” she said to the old man, “Such selflessness is bound to make you famous and rich, which is reason enough, no?”

Meena groaned and glanced heavenward in a silent plea, maybe asking for a new sibling. The old man, for his part, was unmoved.

“I am regretful,” he said, “as you are appearing sincere with desire for to change world. But request is currently inconvenience for me. I am waiting only for cloths, which hotel staff seems tarrying to supply.”

A clatter of bagged merchandise announced Torneko’s ascent up the stairs. As he came round the corner toward Solo and the others, he held out a tray clasped in his hands.

“Sure an’ it’s odd, but when the concierge gave me the key to our room he asked would I bring up these damp cloths fer your man stayin’ next door. Figured I might as well do a good turn as ‘twas on my way.” He took in the scene: Meena and Solo standing to the side, Maya’s hand still barring the doorway, the old man peering through the gap. “Aye, ye’ve gone an’ had a craic without me, have ye? I get the feeling this’ll be common fare in our travels.”

“Unnnngh…” came a groan from within the room.

The old man looked over his shoulder and turned brusquely away, leaving the door to swing wide open. Inside, a young fellow lay doubled up in one of the beds. His face was ashen and blotched with green, like mold on white bread. His brow shone with perspiration and kept furrowing in distress.

He swallowed between belabored gasps and seemed to be trying to speak. The old man rested a hand on his shoulder and mumbled some words to him, which seemed to calm him down, at least somewhat. He kept clenching the bedsheets near his stomach.

Torneko peered into the room and whistled.

“Japers, that fella’s sick as a small hospital, so he is. Reminds me of the time my own Tipper went down with the measles. Had a right go of it for weeks against the disease, he did.”

“The man is doing poorly?” Meena said. “Sis, Don’t be standing so close to the doorway! You will catch his awful awful sickness!”

“Ugh, it is not like he is breathing on me, silly-billy,” Maya retorted. “Besides, things are now just getting juicy!”

Meanwhile, as though he completely understood what needed doing Torneko sauntered in toward the bedridden fellow and set the damp cloths on a stand close by. He cheerfully handed one cloth to the old man, who took it, bemused.

“I am marveled at kindness of pure strangers,” he remarked. “It is no use to hide more longer, I judge: As you are seeing, my compatriot is severely ill. We are arriving at town in hopes to procure medicines, but…”

He tapped on the rounded top of his staff, seeming to mull over how much more he should reveal. “I am Borya, esteemed court magician,” he continued. “My hapless compatriot Kiryl is priest-in-training. We are residents of most excellent castle Zamoksva, in the country of Maestrel.”

Solo edged inside the doorway and finally spoke up.

“Zamoksva? Isn’t that the kingdom whose inhabitants mysteriously disappeared some time ago? But you somehow escaped.”

Borya nodded. “We are final remnants of once-glorious castle: Kiryl and I…and our Tsarevna Alena, whom we have responsibility to escort.”

He laid a cloth across Kiryl’s fevered brow and patted it in place. “I am concerning for her safety also,” he said more to himself. “Yoy… Such trouble Kiryl has caused by his infirmity. I am sure to give him sharp reprimand for this inconvenience when he is again healthful.”

“Listen,” Solo hedged, “could we help you in any way? We’ve had our own share of…troubles, so we understand the value of a hand in hard times.”

“Tch! Solo, you are so very confused, no?” Maya said. “I am personally only understanding the value of a nice gold co- Yowch! Why do you pinch me on the arm, sis?”

Borya studied Solo and then glanced around at the rest of the party. “This is exceeding kindness. I cannot to impose own problems upon you. But…you say I am meant to join your band of travelers?”

“Yes,” said Meena. She lifted her glass ball and gazed into it. “You, and the sickly sickly priest, and also the Alena girl, who is not here.”

Borya still seemed to hesitate. He looked down at Kiryl, who moaned and flopped over in bed.

“I am of mind to trust you,” he finally said, “as other options are few. Very well.” He turned sternly toward the group. “Tsarevna Alena is gone to procure feverfew root, which local commoners say is cure for Kiryl’s condition. It is said to be grown in neighboring village, but Alena has been gone so many days without word. She is like stubborn and reckless goat, and I fear she has come into some peril. I cannot depart Kiryl’s side else he expire from improper care. You see how I am jammed by current circumstance.”

“Well, since there are four of us and only one of you, we’d likely be better help in searching for your…ehm…Tsarevna.” Solo tried to cover his unfamiliarity with the title by slurring it quickly. “We’re seasoned travelers and would be able to rescue her should she be beset by monsters.”

“Agya, she will more likely need rescuing from own self, I mind,” Borya grumbled. “But is no matter. You have my complete gratitude for this offer.”

He bowed shortly over his cane, then turned to change the cloth on Kiryl’s forehead. Solo and the others took it as a cue to take their leave.

“I am hoping we can assist them quickly quickly, so our band of Chosen can become more complete,” Meena said as they exited the room.

“I am hoping this Zamoksvan princess will reward us with great riches since we are being such excellent help!” Maya added (to her sister’s consternation).

Torneko brought up the rear. “Don’t suppose I might sit this one out, fellas? Give an old man some rest? …Aye, I thought not.”