I'd like to tell you guys a story about my long struggle to step out of fanfiction and start a fictional universe of my own. And in doing so, to ask whether this journey had been acceptably completed.
Three years ago I was beginning my serious (as in, more than drabbles) writing career. At the meantime, I was enthralled by three things: AdventureQuest
, Age of Empires
, and [[Tsukihime Nasuverse]]. Being the crazily-creative-minded person I was, I decided to put all of them into the pot, poured into an electric blender and set to "liquefy".
The plot was basically about an English dude who was pursuing Roa independently on behest of the Adventure Quest world, because this vampire was seeking AQ's Uber and Mastercraft equipment in order to become a god proper
and replace The'Galin
. To help him, the celestial authorities sent him the Valhallan Regiment, a company of soldiers from an assortment of historical periods who had died valiantly in battle and resurrected as angelic beings, bearing their historical arms and armor into battle
. Naturally, it sucked really badly.
And then I realized the glue that held them together, the "Valhalla Regiment", had more potential than I originally gave them credit. I set up to rewrite the story, but two thousand words and six months later, I realized it was still far too derivative of Nasuverse. So again I scratched it and started something else, which enjoyed even less success (read: readers)
It was only six months ago when I decided to restart the project seriously. I scratched the original cast of the Valhallan Regiment, replaced them with others, more historically accurate depiction of what soldiers from their own time would be actually like
. On the other hand, I gave disproportionate development to the antagonist side, so that from the single-character faction in the original fanfic, it became a Reich
continential vampire empire, with a completely revamped myth and history
. And, not evil by proxy
And so here is the question I want to ask you, since I am pretty sure many of us around here are more familiar with visual novels than most other places on the Net - From the way my process goes and the way the sample chapter goes below, is it still
derivative of [[Tsukihime Nasuverse]]?
It was past nightfall by the time the ship dropped its anchor. The pier from which we were to disembark from was relatively hidden from the common eyes, perched behind a plethora of piers and harbor bridges protruding deep into the lagoon. The sight of the city called Tokyo from the ship’s deck was majestic. On one side, there was the endless ocean, and the other, a city larger than any other I, or my forefathers for that matter, had ever laid eyes upon. Even from afar I could see and hear so much light and sound, I wondered if her citizens would ever sleep.
The first to disembark were the Night Brothers, tasked with maintaining a camouflage cover for the rest. From what humble limit I had of the arcane, this would be done by a simple spell for personal use yet extremely costly when applied to army-sized bodies. The entire coven’s magic might was brought to use as they chanted the word, forming an outward-expanding globe of darkness that engulfed the ship, the pier and the entire area around them. Only under this cover would our army stand any chance of entering this incredible sea of light without alerting the humans.
I heard some of the Nikephoroi Phalangitai – lest their glamorous name fool you, are but the youthful children of middle-class citizens given some training, a pike and some crude armor to hold a line while we the Cataphracts do our job – complain about not getting the chance to see the beauty of the Tokyo harbor at night. We could, theoretically, if the Colonel had not decided we must not take any chances of being detected. The spell was not infallible, and Imperial generals who depended too much on it more often than not had to pay a hefty price – namely, defeat.
Our army was not quite as numerous as any other significant incursions in history. Landing in Tokyo this day we had fifty Kataphraktoi, three hundred Nikephoroi, a hundred Toxotai Thasogenitoi, a detachment of Toxotai Epilektoi, a coven of Temple Night Brothers of the Scythe, and a minor crew of Hemoheilotai to tend to the army’s every need. We were a modest army, just shy of six hundred in number, as opposed to such juggernauts as the ten-thousand-strong army, complete with artillery, spellcasters and mercenary swordsmen in the last invasion of the White Consulate havens thirty years ago. And yet this is the army upon whose shoulder the Empire’s Eastward expansion depend. Like a human king once said “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” indeed.
As the men and horses and all the panoply of war began to disembark on the pier, I stayed close to the Colonel. It was my duty as a member of the Colonel’s personal bodyguards to safeguard his life even at the cost of my own.
Mine was a small squad, numbering exactly four, including myself, hailing from all walks of nobility. Lieutenant Mitildates Euclides, the oldest of us all, had spent the greater part of his century of existence fighting alongside such legends of the Empire as Duke de Chevalier, Marquis von Schlieffer and Count Barkoczy the Saint. Sergeant Petrov Yaroslav, a surprisingly sober Russian who had drunk less vodka than he did blood and a skilled horseman matched by few even among the Cataphracts. I respect both of them not just because they are my senior but also for their near-infallible calmness and stoicism at almost all times.
And then there was one for whom I cannot say I reserve such respect.
“Hey there, Julian! Why the long face?”
That raunchy voice was accompanied by a pat on the Colonel’s pauldron so loud it hurt, and the look of both bewilderment and pain on his face showed. It took him, the gods bless his fortitude and strength of personality, mere seconds to recover from that impact, it seemed.
“Our campaign is going to begin in earnest as soon as the last of our men disembarks, that is why, Captain von Schlieffer,” he said to his non-malicious assailant without even turning back with a stern voice. “And you shall address me as Colonel de Chevalier for as long as I command this troop.”
That assailant happened to be nearly a foot taller than the Colonel or any of us for that matter. His Hemothorax was custom-tailored to fit his size, and even then it looked like it was threatening to burst asunder anytime he should exert too much force. On his shoulder was a wicked scythe-spear-halberd-some-polearm-or-another weapon that could dispatch any opponent in the goriest way available in one swing. And on his face was an oddly cheerful and carefree expression more associable to a born-in-the-purple princeling than a champion of the Empire proper. He was Captain Hermann von Schlieffer, a soldier nothing like his father the five-time-recipient of the Imperial Hero Grand Cross Marquis von Schlieffer. Why, other than obvious nepotism, we had to have this lout for a squad leader, I can never know.
He responded to the Colonel’s chastise by a none the less casual shrug.
“Well, if you say so, Ju…” he said, “I mean, Colonel de Chevalier, sir.”
Even though he corrected himself mid-sentence, the tone he spoke in was quite nonchalant through and through, like speaking to a friend rather than a superior officer. If my ears had not yet betrayed me, I could swear there was a distinct sarcastic ring to his answer. As a matter of course this rebellious attitude did not pass the Colonel undetected.
“By the gods above, Captain, I hope you would take our assignment with more seriousness and dignity,” he remarked. “The moment you boarded the Flandango you should have considered your life forfeited.”
“And that is exactly why I am taking it easy,” he said defiantly. “No point in dying depressed, you know.”
And then, in a hardly predictable twist, he spun back to face the rest of the squad. So abrupt was his movement that even Lieutenant Euclides was taken aback, temporarily struck with the moment’s panic and confusion.
“And if we are to die, we’ll die with a bottle of fine wine in one hand and a pretty girl in the other arm,” he spread a broad smile as he eyed us all, one by one. “Am I right, guys?”
That did it. I, a proud noble of the land of the fearless Hussars, just could not see such absurd declaration go unanswered. I walked forwards with steps as dignified as my bloodline could offer, neck straight, head faced forth, and only stopped when I was within an arm’s length from our unruly captain.
“We are not here to drink, dine and party, Captain!” I said, twice as loud and infinitely more accusative as I normally would. “Especially us! We are the Cataphracts, guardian of the Empire, the hope of Her people and the scourge of all Her enemies! You should have known better than…”
“Well, what do you think we are here for, then?”
The Captain’s question was jabbed in the very middle of my speech, catching me well off guard for the moment. The confusion did not last long – more than anyone else, I know what we are here for.
“Why, what else are we here other than to eradicate the Empire’s foes, take their land and their wealth, humiliate their families and humble their supporters, and then…”
“No. Just… no. You’ve got it all wrong.”
At that moment I thought again my ears had deceived me. It was the Colonel’s voice, of all people, spoken with a clear tone of disapproval, no less. In my bout of astonishment could only turn back to face him. His arms were crossed as he shook his head in displeasure.
“Colonel, sir?” I uttered. “But… why?”
“Tokyo is no Constantinople,” he answered me. “And we are not here on a crusade, particularly not the likes of the fourth one.”
Then his eyes left mine, as he marched forth near the center of the passing line of men and horses, so that the entire army could see him and hear him speak.
“Soldiers of the glorious Holy Komnenian Empire! My fellow brothers!” he addressed, raising his voice as high as he could.
A natural speaker he was, just those words had halted all actions around him. Shoes stopped stomping, weapons stopped clanking, even the horses stalled their leisurely steps. Once absolutely everything had been brought to a grinding halt, he took a good look along his line of soldiers, and began speaking.
“I will say this only once, so mark my words!” he declared with as much solemnity as relaying a message from His Majesty the Kaiser himself. “We are an army of justice, representing everything that the Empire and our forefather Manuel I Komnenos stand for! We fight like knights, not knaves! We humble the strong, not harm the weak! We fight for honor, not petty gains!”
A brief pause ensued,
“So let it be known,” he concluded, “that from this moment on, anyone who harms the humans in this city, be it for blood, food, gold or any other reason, will be dealt with as though they had so harmed a citizen of the Empire!”
It was as though he had taken a cue from my statement to start his own speech. If that was indeed true, this day shall be one of the most glorious days in my entire life, regardless of the reason why he took that cue from me in the first place.
And indeed it was. Nothing like a resolute “Yes, sir!” with all due enthusiasm from everyone with a speech-capable mouth and tongue in the line of men and horses to confirm the absolute degree of authority in the Colonel’s words. I could not help but feel blessed by the gods above, serving under a man like him.
To think of the effort the Empire had put into our expedition this day. In order to safely ferry our company to our destination, the Colonel had enlisted the aid of several dozens of container trucks and scores of chartered buses. The horses were happily loaded into the containers, while the men seated in the buses. I took a deep breath as I followed the Colonel into the very first. Following the one destined for greatness does, in and of itself, bring tangible benefits.
Yet the Cataphracts weren’t the only people blessed with the honor to sit alongside the Colonel. At the back of the car about a dozen Nikephoroi sat, chatting happily away, as if oblivious to the presence of their better. Normally I would not mind those youngsters, but this day I found their presence somewhat grating.
Maybe it was the streets of this city. By the beard of the Beggar King, where on Earth did all those fancy cars and motorcycles came from? I could not help but wonder whether there were actually more cars than people in this city, and some of them would so happen to be driven by themselves. The light, the noise and the smoke seemed all but endless, and I could not help but grimace in a way so unbecoming of a soldier.
By extension, their street lighting was so aggressively bright my eyes physically hurt. Not to mention their billboards were omnipresent, flaunting about as much light to their name as the common street lamps. I saw many atop large buildings, outside shops, even mounted several hundred feet in the air, beaming with multi-colored lights, as though competing with one another for the crown of the brightest. If not for my Hemothorax I would have keeled over sick at the mere sight of so much light.
And the people – I would never have believed the humans outnumber us this much before I set my eyes upon the crowded pavement. In many parts the density of people shuffling by would rival that of a shoulder-to-shoulder phalanx formation, and far less homogenous.
It seemed I would have a lot to learn about this place, if I were to be of any help at all to the Colonel in the upcoming campaign.
As we cruised along, I noticed the youngsters were a little too keen on hooting and whistling. Even though I could use a little peace of mind, I could not help but sympathize with them somewhat. The womenfolk touring the streets were, Saint Apollonia forgives, utterly stunning in every sense of the word.
I then noticed a particular group of three young girls wearing almost identical clothing walking by, talking and giggling their way along the street. Said uniform was seemingly designed for the sole purpose of pleasing the sight of passers-by. Their short skirts and loose shirts with ribbons with a short cloth flap on the backside, when coupled with that sort of cutesy demeanor they displayed through and through seemed to distract even the likes of Lieutenant Euclides. I found my eyes fixed upon them almost unconsciously for the entire time like a hapless old fool, no less.
It was only a sympathetic glance from the Colonel that brought me back to the real world.
“Colonel de Chevalier, sir!” I exclaimed, bowing to him apologetically. “This… this shall not happen again, sir!”
“Well, I am not criticizing you per se,” the Colonel answered gently.
He took a glance out of the window, less to catch a glimpse of paradise himself and more to create a rhetoric break he was so fond of. Then he returned to me, smiling, his expression sympathetic still.
“Japanese high school girls,” he said. “Indeed this country does produce fine women. You have to observe firsthand with your own eyes to believe.”
Amazingly, the Colonel said those words with his face completely straight. Even though I had heard many rumors he was not interested in women or any other pleasure of life apart from the joy of serving the empire, I had to observe firsthand with my own eyes to believe, indeed.
Our Captain, on the other hand, was smiling broadly as his eyes scanned the streets. Any lady with half a brain could possibly take the cue from his expression and leave his presence very, very quietly.
“Whoa, look at that buxom babe!” he remarked, his eyes gluing on a random woman on the street. “This seems to be the sort of paradise His Majesty would be all too pleased to gain a foothold.”
Such words were uttered without thinking, as one would expect from him. It was not a really a good idea, if the ice-cold glare the Colonel throw him on reflex was any indication.
“The car engine is a little loud, isn’t it?” he said, again with a completely straight face. “Unfortunately I couldn’t hear a single word you said, Captain von Schlieffer. Best leave it that way, yes?”
The Captain did not answer, but from the way his head bent and his eyes glued on the floor, I suppose he got the hint.
And with that, our car returned to silence… or at least the just the front part. At the back, the young Nikephoroi were still busying themselves leering and hooting and whistling at the passing womenfolk. It so happened that the endless laughter of the juniors would persist until we arrived at our destination. I could have told them to shut up, but ended up with my mouth closed still. Perhaps, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, some of them would be lying in a mass grave on the roadside.
And should they perish in battle or otherwise, the Empire might as well never know their individual names…
The journey took us around fifteen minutes, give or take. The bus slowly pulled over on the roadside, before swiftly grinding to a halt. And then we arrived at our destination, a place at first sight had as much to do with us vampires as a forest to a fish.
“We have arrived, brothers,” said the Colonel as he stood up from his seat.
I might as well be exaggerating, but I could swear it was a grand hotel seemingly reserved for the likes of royalties. The building itself was no less than twenty stories high, as opposed to my father’s humble four-storey ‘castle’. The floor was tiled with marble and carpeted in velvet. The exterior was outfitted with a plethora of electric lights, flaring up the array of artificial flora around its driveway as though it was day. As we arrived at the gate, a group of humans wearing well-ironed business suits were scurrying from the entrance, heading towards the nearest cars. Even in my wildest dream I would not thought of having anything to do with such an otherworldly place, much less entering one or, god forbid, staying for the night.
“This is where we make our stand,” the Colonel turned to each and every of us and said loud and clear.
Not that the certainty of his voice helped our brothers’ disbelief any. The Nikephoroi were utterly stunned, while the Lieutenant and the Sergeant were both staring at the Colonel, not knowing what to do next. The only one to retain any sense of normalcy through this astonishment was, surprisingly, Captain von Schlieffer himself. He just glanced at the Colonel exactly once, before shrugging, standing up and begin to exit the bus. It was as though the entire business was within his expectation, which I still had a hard time believing.
“Colonel de Chevalier, sir,” I could not stop myself asking. “What is the meaning of this?”
“This, my friend, is where we shall call our headquarters for our operations,” he calmly addressed. “In other words, if there is a place in this whole hostile zone we may call home, it would be this hotel.”
“But… how?” I exclaimed my eyes rolling in a manner none too respectful. “Are you trying to say we are just going to… waltz in and hire a room or a dozen?”
The Colonel gave me an understanding glance, before shaking his head.
“Wrong word, Corporal,” he said. “We are not hiring
anything. We are commandeering
this hotel in the name of Kaiser Sigismund Komnenos. Its top floors, to be exact.”
“Com… mandeer?” I repeated blankly.
The Colonel seemed to pay my confusion no mind, as though leaving me to figure out for myself.
“Remember to put on your cloak before getting out of the car, everyone,” he then reminded, not just to me, but to every other soldier on the bus. “Now, double-time!”
The ‘cloak’ he mentioned was a magical device almost as old as vampirekind itself and had, by now, become more or less a household item. It had only one purpose – a rudimentary disguise for us not to stand out too much among humans. When the cloak was put on, we would assume a corresponding human form, which was to say, losing our crimson eyes, pale skin and – as for those among us who hailed from the Eastern European provinces of the Empire – our sharp fangs in the eyes of any human bystanders. The military version of this equipment is a little more complicated, being able to cleverly disguise our arms and armors as well, though I myself am no expert on the issue.
I could barely put on my cloak before finding myself pushed and shoved down by the overly eager Nikephoroi behind us. Next thing I knew, we were standing on the asphalt ground, gathering in a semicircle around him. It turned out that ours was the first bus to arrive, with the second pulling over next to us and the third a short distance away. Colonel de Chevalier, being the diligent officer he was, began to set out to work.
“Lieutenant Euclides, stay behind and coordinate the other buses when they arrive. Sergeant Yaroslav, maintain discipline among the Nikephoroi – I don’t want any trouble here before I am done in there,” he ordered, turning to face each and every of us. “And Captain von Schlieffer and Corporal Piastovsky, follow me inside.”
We did not waste any moment. The Lieutenant dashed to the roadside, raising a small flag ad waved it about, signaling the buses to pull over in order. Meanwhile, the Sergeant was busy shouting order to the Nikephoroi – may the gods bless their youthful vigor and curse their squandering it on small talks and obscene jokes. Meanwhile, my task was solely to tag along the Colonel and the Captain, a task surprisingly less hectic than theirs.
As I stepped into the brightly lit lobby and observing first-hand the degree of luxury the human establishment prided on flaunting, my heart started beating quicker. That jar on display on the left side of the hall, I reckoned it could afford a couple of much-needed tractors and harvesters for my familial holding’s peasantry. Those statues on the right, we could furnish half the adult males in our haven with good weapons and armor from their proceeds. And the fine art articles hung all over the galleries together with their gorgeously gilded frames, there was no way they would fetch less money than our fief’s tax income for a decade or two.
“Colonel, sir,” I asked, my voice trembling. “Are you completely sure we should stay in a place like this?”
“Positive,” answered the Colonel. “This hotel is at the very center of the city of Tokyo and within short reach of the harbor. Our informants are all located around the region. And most importantly, the current owners of these spheres of influence are never going to suspect our activities here. For a while at least.”
“The preposterous Katanaphoroi,” Captain von Schlieffer shook his head. “I have never ever considered them anything more than a joke, plain and simple.”
“They might be no match for the High Wolves, but they have their own strengths,” the Colonel shook his head. “Homeland and number can confer massive advantages, and I have always held their noble sense of honor in high regard.”