Critique of Chapter XII
By: Dhalgren99


So once again proud authors we are here to discuss a chapter by Hensbane, with that lovely...whoa, back the trolley up...Hensbane? Again? Didn't we just do two chapters (with three sections each!) featuring you and Hellbore? Not that long ago. Geez, if you guys let her keep this up it's going to turn into "Hensbane's Phantom Realms Featuring a Bunch of Other Guys who Drop In Once In a While For Kicks"...what are you folks doing, at this rate Hellbore is going to become the de facto spokesperson for the Realms, maybe if Odan wasn't so busy testing the virginity of every fair (or otherwise) maiden in sight...but a man like that is hard to keep focused, I imagine. I've got friends like that but they don't quite...strike gold, we'll say, as often as Odan...but I guess that's why they call it fantasy, eh?

Okay, now that I've dispensed with the obligatory Odan reference for the day (I don't think I really mentioned Tristian either in the last round of commenting (the aside doesn't count, I was just saving myself from writing a separate missive)...so I've got to mention him one more time today...here we go...Tristian! Ah, I feel better now) we can lunge right into the chapter itself. Interestingly this chapter is called "Hellbore's Adventure" much as the last one was called "Craven's Adventure", both of which I guess are to the point...actually since the last chapter was sort of out of step with everything, I was expecting this to be much the same but aha, no! Instead it takes place right after Hellbore leaves the Inn...the gal is rather smitten with Karl, I think she spends most of her idle moments in the chapter mooning over that Strange lad...oho, a play on words, my cleverness truly knows no bounds...I think we need a Karlcentric chapter to see how he feels about our dear shapechanging lady (gee, when Karl says his mistress is a tiger in bed, he can really mean it!). I hope it's mutual even if it's too straightforward for me so far, I like the complicated stuff (I also like blowing up stuff in my stories as often as I can so maybe we're not really focusing on the same thing here).

So now Hellbore is Lady of the Wolves...eh? I'd be a little wary of a Wood Elf (hey, any relation to Trey in FragmentFour's suite of stories)...for a lady she's not real dignified, you think in two hundred years someone would have told her that spinning around in a circle is going to make you dizzy...I thought canines had good balance, whoops...she should just shapechange her inner ear into the same one a squirrel has (we never discussed if she can change certain parts of her body, like say reshaping her brain to increase the ocular lobes so she can see better...stuff like that)...still, it was a little silly...I mean it's not as if the Wood Elf's voice was bouncing all around, he speaks once and she spins in a circle and falls down. Um, Karl, between you and me, you can have her, body to kill for or not. I don't need the daffy ones.

First the Green Man (and what the heck ever happened to him, in fact what the heck has Hellbore been doing for the last two hundred years?) now the Wood Elf, you've got the forest on the brain, it seems. His introduction, while not as myth shattering as the Green Man is neat, but you wonder, there are spirits for the forests and stuff but why not spirits for the villages...don't they deserve one too, don't cities get to count as entities? Just a thought. Mr Wood Elf won't do much good if Hellbore hits a large city or something (if there are any, for fear of DanO hiding bios all over to trick me into reading them, I've stayed away from the map area too).

Speaking of large cities, boy you take a detour into brutality land with the discovery of the massacre...it's neat that Hellbore does her best to use her shapechanging skills to do some detective work but it's kind of glossed over, she smells them and takes off, then blanks out and blanks back in again face down in the water...did she find them...Hellbore seems easily distracted, she has a quest and leaves the Inn because she "must" complete the quest but then starts dispensing vengeance the first chance she gets...believe me, girl vengeance is a full time job you keep stopping every three feet to avenge somebody, you're never going to finish. It's a little disappointing because she gets all fired up, you pile on the horror and she's all geared up to chase them down...and then nothing happens. It's not even really mentioned again until the end, in fact Hellbore who was so fired up a minute ago to go killing people, sits down and has a nice quiet meal and starts playing with birds. Um, anyone else vote for flighty gal?

As for using your shapechanging abilities...here's some neat ones off the bat, she could have changed into a dwarf or bat because the tracks would have still been warm and would have shown up in their vision (anything with "nightvision" will see heat) and thus she could have followed them...anything flying would have helped her catch up...still I'm sure that plotline won't be abandoned (now she's got two guys to kill, that bloke who ordered her entire village killed and now these dudes, see vengeance is a loser's game, I'm afraid).

Hellbore still doesn't seem to be thinking clearly, but that could be weariness..."If I only had a horse to ride...", woman you're a SHAPECHANGER you can turn into a horse. I like how the animals are all watching over her when they don't need to, again she's a shapechanger...if that snake had bit her I don't think he wants a taste of the crap swimming around in her bloodstream, I imagine the werewolf factor is a blood or saliva borne virus, sinking your teeth into those veins are about the worst things you can do...also, hey if she gets hurt she can always change into a earthworm, they regenerate quickly. Can she shapechange into plants or inanimate objects we saw Majica change into a bush last time and so could Trey...that'd be a good idea when you're sleeping, how's going to hack at every bush to get to you. But then, if those dragons from the last chapter had been thinking...ah but don't get me started, I hate it when evil loses due to blind stupidity. If it's a clever plan and they're soundly defeated by a cunning counterattack, that's cool but when evil just isn't thinking...come on. They can do better than that.

The chapter sort of loses its momentum after Hellbore sort of abandons the "get 'em" quest, as I fondly call it...it starts to regain it with the introduction of the horses but the sudden move into a direction sort of out of nowhere tends to leave me wondering just what the heck is going on. But the horse scene is neat if for some reason charged with sexual tension, that could just be my hormone charged age speaking here...telepathic horses, didn't they do that in Gulliver's Travels? Just for the record, the unspoken rule in writing tends to be that telepathic speech (it's fairly common in SF) is done in italics, someone reading the story might be under the impression that Hellbore and the horse are just talking normally when I imagine mindspeech is very different, the sensations and textures are probably much richer and it's probably a different dynamic depending on who's stronger mentally. Tristian and Ranos do it all the time and I'm saying that only because I haven't plugged myself yet...hey you guys get an entire website, I get this hour I spend with you every few days. I'm going to milk it for all its worth, even if I have to be subversive.

I find it a bit disturbing that the horse (who is a horse of course) sort of barges his way into Hellbore's mind, sort of like "Whoops excuse me" when you trip over someone's end table because you're trying to see out their window. Um, that doesn't make much sense, does it? In any even you'd think that a race of telepaths would be a little more respectful of other people's heads, at least ask permission first. And being that shapeshifters normally have good imaginations, I'd make life real unpleasant for any fool silly enough to go poking around in my head...Hellbore's "come on in, boys" approach hopefully isn't something she's going to make mental policy for the future.

Man, changing into all those creatures must have hurt, let's face it, she's altering her entire skeletal-muscular structure over and over and over again...not only is she going to eat everything in sight really soon but I'm sure her bones must feel like putty, or Play-Dough at the very least. The cardinal rule of magic and I hope the characters here remember it...you don't get anything for free, it's all got a cost. I'm surprised Hellbore's even lived this long since her metabolism must be working overtime...there's a reason mice don't have long lifespans even in a zoo.

Whoa, talking horses that can blink in and out as well...okay someone found DanO's stash. The whole bonding thing is neat and I hope it'll be explored in more detail in later chapters, who's benefiting from what, do the horses do it because the mental connection helps stabilize them...do they just like being...ridden. I'll leave it at that. Oh ho ho, Mr Dirty Mind, I'm a-going to sleep in the gutter tonight.

You know, the Wood Elf is really all cheerful and stuff but he seems to have forgotten (and so has Hellbore) that an entire group of people was slaughtered not too long ago. Still, he continues in the Phantom Realms tradition of composing songs consisting only of rhyming couplets (at least alternate the scheme!) and his comparsion to Cupid is sort of strange...he admits that Cupid is mythological so it doesn't mean they were having drinks in Deity Cafe the other week but...this isn't Our Earth, is it now, I know there have been passing references to Norse and British mythology here and there but the overt mention here is sort of weird, there were never any Greeks or Romans here and thus no one to create Roman or Greek mythology and thus...where'd he get Cupid from? Can the Wood Elf cross over, is the Inn paradimensional...I'm probably nit picky but like most of these chapters most of the broad comments I made before still apply so there's no need to repeat, and I can't just be like, "Spiffy job, trooper!" since that's boring. To me at least. The rest of you are probably wishing you got one of those more concise folks who populate the boards back home.

The next time I try to pick up a girl (I can make bail soon so it's probably getting to be about that time) I'm definitely going to try and use "I promise to be good and not deposite bodily wastes on your person"...that's damn funny. I'm sure Hellbore appreciates any and all efforts not to take a dump on her head. I know I would, or that horse would be eating it. And if any of you think that's sick, remember...Hensbane brought it up.

Aha, the quest is finally mentioned again...but then she falls asleep. Hellbore still acts like a emotionally overcharged teenager, she's a rather excitable woman for her stately two hundred years, you think she would have learned to calm down a bit, she's a tad impetuous. Oh well. Still, the girl needs to use her head more, she's stumbled into everything so far and has been unable to stick to any quest, she went to the Inn about the bodies, killed two beasts and then neglected to mention it to anyone, let the body quest drop for another one, found the dead people, vowed vengeance, forgot about it when the horses showed up and now she's back on that again but has forgotten the original quest, whatever that was. And there's still Chuckles, the man who killed her family. Actually I forgot his name but I think Chuckles fits just as well. It's suitably evil and vicious (as opposed to viscous, another evil concept).

So all told, another good chunk of the Hellbore saga, like I said before it suffers a bit because of the leapfrog effect, Hellbore doesn't seem to have this ability to stay focused and thus the chapter jumps from quest to quest like a toddler on a sugar high, the individual parts are great but then the chapter as a whole loses some coherence...my goal when writing chapters has been to make them microcosms (ooh, somebody took the GREs) of the story itself, thus the chapter will have a minor begining, the usual rising, climax, etc before quieting down just in time to deliver the "hook" necessary to trick, er, snag the reader into heading for the next chapter. I also like a beginning "hook" as well, generally a funky word or group of words or even a striking image (again this is partly comic training) to make things just weird enough so the reader wants to keep reading just so they can figure out what the heck is happening. Perhaps beginning with the Wood Elf calling out to Hellbore in a stranger fashion (come on he lives with trees, demigod or not, he's still not all there), and maybe end it with Hellbore standing in the rain drenched sky and smelling the scent of the murderers on the air. As lightning crashes, because it always does in dramatic moments. The good thing about writing and the weather is that unlike real life, you can script rain here.

Still, good stuff, Hellbore's going to overpower everyone on sheer presence alone, it seems. But I think Odan is next up so we'll see if the master of his Realm can bring the bacon back home. So to speak. Now with that business out of the way I get to have fun with DanO's attempt at disproving my "vapor argument" as we enter into the new Vapor Debate...DanO my dictionary lovin' pal...your use of Websters (or Oxford, I'm not going to check, even if I do work in a library...plus you only give synonyms, not a definition) only serves to back up my side...the key words here are "ethereal" and "insubstantial" (there's no "unsubstantial" as far as I know, unless they added that one later)...the two things that make up vapors. Imagine dry ice, now imagine the smokey looking stuff coming off the melting dry ice...those are vapors, my friend, and if you can explain to me how those vapors can rub anything, I'd be interested to hear it. In fact, next time you're near dry ice and its vapors, take a deep breath and fill those no doubt manly lungs and let loose...the vapors go all over...because that's what vapor does...in fact if the dragons had just done just that, they would have dispersed everyone. Smoke from a fire, that's vapor.

Second, you mention that we're in the "Phantom" Realms...well if you mean that "phantoms" or "spectres" are vapor, no, no, ghosts consist of ectoplasm which is more solid (you don't blow out ghosts like birthday candles), if they had turned into ghosts chances are the dragons would have seen them.

As for the breathing in thing, anyone who has asthma will probably recall using a nebulizer or even a humidifier...those create vapors, which you BREATHE in. I didn't say it would be a smart idea (it would probably be suicidical, you'd give the dragon one hell of a headache before the stroke hit but your body would be crushed to pulp since your body suddenly falling back into solid phase wouldn't be able to accomodate the unyielding bone and tissue around) but it's certainly better than running and hiding each time. That's not a plan, that's called a retreat, which you do when you're losing.

However, all this is for naught without the input of that Mistress of Worldly Vapors herself, Kenicy, who has thus far been silent on this ever so important issue. Again, it's not the fact that they rub a gem and turn invisible, if I can accept shapechangers I can certainly accept this, it was the choice of words and everyone's insistence that they turned into "vapor". Invisible, yes, I'll buy that. Vapor...you kids are going to have to work harder than that before you'll convince Mrs B's eldest son of that aspect.

Though in the end it is Kenicy's tale and if she wants to call it vapor, then she can go right ahead, I'm not about to hack into her computer and change it all to suit me. But I'll make you work for that right, that's for sure.

So, if anyone else (I'm sure that's not the last we've heard from DanO and Kenicy has yet to voice her opinion) has any comments on this burgeoning debate, please, don't be shy. Besides, DanO needs the help.

Heh, I'm such the stinker, it's so easy to get the last word in on e-mail.

Bye all! Till next time!

- Michael

"I'm going to whittle you into kindling..."
- Tom Waits, "Sixteen Shells From a Thirty Ought Six"


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