Holding the Door and Dying Dragons – Old School

(Just a warning that this post is riddled with spoilers about two 80s fantasy films)

Let’s talk about a heroic act where a notable character held a door so others could push on to saving the day. A memorable and emotional sacrifice. Something that has lingered with me for years.

As may be obvious, no, this has nothing to do with a big idiot whose mind was ruined by time-travelling weirdness and who was left holding a door without realising it, by which point it was too late for him to run. By the way, I would love to see said character return as an undead figure, carrying a door to beat a certain teenage boy who destroyed his life with.

No, this is about the character Rell, the cyclops from the 1983 science-fantasy film, Krull.

Then we can talk about that moment when a dragon was killed in a dramatic fight, which hurt me and still hurts when I have watched it since. Those final moments of life from that character. A character who stood out and meant something, and who died playing an important role in the story. Again, I’m clearly not talking about something that just happened on tv. I mean Smrgol, the older dragon, in the animated fantasy 1982 film, the Flight of Dragons.

This is where I get into being a bit of an old grump. I’ve seen people say they lost their minds, literally cried, at the two tv show moments I alluded to. Okay, people react differently to things. I get that. No one can tell you how to be affected by story telling as you grow up. Still, I found these tv moments to be hollow. Dramatic, yes. Shocking, true. But nothing as emotionally scarring as the two incidents I’m going to describe. It makes me feel old and bitter, claiming to myself “young people today lose it over anything, whereas when I were a lad, we got upset over real characters being killed off” etc. I admit I think I’m being unfair, and a grumpy old man. Maybe younger people emote more than my generation did. Maybe they feel for these characters more than I ever could. Maybe the fact I grew up on other moments means these new moments can’t affect me, but they would if I were growing up now. I hope not. I hope I would always need an emotional core to an event for it to get me, and also I can still find my gut being wrenched when the art is worked skilfully. See the beginning of Up or the end of Moon.

I could write a big complaint about how people overreacted to these tv moments, but again, while I have my logical points to make, the bulk is just emotional reactions. Some work for certain people, others don’t. If anyone grieved over a CGI dragon that barely did a thing and had no personality, well fair enough. I can understand grieving more for the anguish the Mother felt than the creature itself, without doubt. Less so for the death on its own. Fewer so? Anyway, people have their own reactions to things and I don’t like berating others for their emotional outbursts, as if we can control them that well. I’m sure I would have been derided for wanting to cry over an animated dragon breathing its last breath, back when I was a child. Even so, I feel fully justified in that grief. Smrgol was a character and he made a choice and it cost him.

That’s a good place to start. Something that binds these two memorable moments. Choosing for yourself and paying the price. I don’t want to go on about things that didn’t move me and how snarky I got when others were affected. I want to use this to springboard into praising what did work and trying to explain why it did. For me.

Rell in Krull. Here is this big cyclops who appears and helps the band of characters out, later joining them. His story is explained in simple terms. Once his people made a deal with the Beast (the villain) but were tricked, losing an eye to see the future, except the only thing they could see ahead of them was the day of their death. They became a sad and lonely people. But as a cyclops, Rell clearly sees the Beast and his minions, the Slayers, as his enemies. He fights them for his own reasons, and joins the other heroes when he can see they are worthy people, and he has been able to prove himself to them. However, when the ending is near, Rell stays behind. The rest set out to reach the Black Fortress before it moves, yet he has to remain, because it is his time to die, and if he tries to avoid this then a very painful fate will befall him.

It won’t surprise to say that Rell does show up later to save them once again, but still, it made my heart leap to see him come riding in. The others are pinned down by Slayers, they can’t get into the fortress, but here comes Rell, stomping his way up, taking bolts to the chest and barely flinching. He works his way up, kills a Slayer and stops a stone slab door from closing.

That’s right, Rell holds the door.

The others begin rushing through. The door is slowly closing but Rell holds it as best he can. It’s still closing though. The others help a bit as the rest go through, except now that door is more closed than not. Rell is struggling. He calls out to them. Colwyn and Torquil strive to help him. It’s no good. There are gurgling noises as the door closes. There’s a shout, but could be from Torquil, still trying to save him. Then the door slams shut.

Rell chose to risk his life. Actually, maybe he chose to give it up – he knew his fate if he avoided the death he foresaw. He had stayed behind because he was meant to. Instead he rode after them, helped them get inside the fortress when none of them could manage it, and enabled them to save the world. Maybe he thought he could do this and survive, but it was highly unlikely. He went to help them knowing the risk, maybe even accepting a death if it could prove to be the difference. It was.

Rell chose. He suffered. Rell made a difference. He paid the price.

During the story, he had been an enigmatic figure who then bonded with other characters and showed a softer side, with a few funny moments too. He meant something to us. As much as Torquil, the outlaw leader, or Ynyr, the Old One. Rell’s character, saving others, his sacrificial, and also brutal, end – it hit me hard back then. Still does.

Now let’s turn to Smrgol. This is an older dragon who ends up having to go on a quest because a human from the 20th Century has gotten fused with a young dragon, who was supposed to go. So a lot of their interaction is Smrgol teaching Peter/Gorebash how to be a dragon.

This teaching goes up a level when Peter has to take on the Ogre of Gormley Keep. This big bastard has kidnapped the other quest members so they have to rescue them by defeating him, and Smrgol is too old for that shit. He tells Peter what to do, then watches in horror as the human gets it all wrong. So into the fray he goes. He gets it right, of course, and down goes the ogre, but just as it was warned, Smrgol found it too much. He collapses. His heart gives out.

Smrgol isn’t meant to go on the quest. Nor is he meant to fight the ogre. He agrees to go because they need him (well, they need three for some reason) and he helps out, and Peter needs a teacher. He gets into the fight to save the young man’s life. I love his “Hey, Hey You”, after they already called the Ogre Hey You in a challenge. He even taunts the ogre a bit as he tries to drag him off the wall. The ogre is a daunting figure, they made a great job of him being terrifying. He matches each dragon, bests one, just loses to the other. Smrgol uses his wits and wins. Experience plays out.

Smrgol is more affable, more likeable, than Rell from Krull. He is a friendly mentor, helping Peter. He can laugh, he cares, and he certainly isn’t in this for glory or bravado. He’s a knowledgeable dragon who knows what is at stake, but should be taking it easy, seeing out his old age. Loses him hurts even more. I mean hell, I just watched the fight on Youtube to check on things and even then I could feel my stomach tightening.

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the inner kid seeing these images and getting to me. Maybe there’s just something about the noble sacrifice. I’ll admit, I’ve always had a thing for that. Dinobot in Beast Wars. Obi-Wan in Star Wars. Hector in the Illiad. Piccolo in Dragonball Z. Gandalf, even though he comes back. Definitely Boromir.

Still, I feel it has a logic to it as well as an emotional reaction. These characters mattered. They chose to act. They knew a cost would be asked. They risked everything. They paid it. You can’t beat that. Not for me, anyway.

I’ll admit, both films are very 80s, with a fair amount of camp and rushed plotlines, sometimes very stereotypical ideas. For once, I’d love to see a remake of either, or both, with more character development and some improvements to the story. Just witnessing a new generation look on in awe as Bryagh swoops down yelling “Puny scum of Carolinus! Prepare to die!” before scattering the group. He was a great baddie who could be fleshed out to be even better. One of my favourite bad dragons.

Still, I’d understand people scoffing at these films. Many did back then. More seem to like these and others nowadays, but they’re far from perfect, even in the eyes of us fanboys and fangirls. Yet these two moments always get me. Rell held that door. Smrgol died in a showdown. Both mattered to me. They still do. I hope their stories won’t be lost as those of us who grew up with them get older.

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The Raging

For those living in the present day of Sojourners in Shadow, there are, in general terms, three stages of history. First, what was going on before the Shadow World arrived, which I have covered in previous posts. Obviously to us history goes on for some time, however, for those striving to survive in the bleak world I am writing about, most of our history is forgotten. The subjects I have covered in my previous posts are and will remain mysteries to most of the living people of now, let alone what went on before.

The third stage is the last century and a half (roughly speaking) where more recent events and actions have occurred to create the world now being experienced. Again, most have no idea what has, and is, going on in other parts of the world; only their corner matters. Yet some are more aware and a few have a grasp of worldwide matters, so they know how things have been, and are going. This third stage is fairly sporadic, with major events occurring here and there, now and then. Many have heard tales and rumours of great leaders, terrible tyrants, brutal battles and shocking disasters, but putting it all together to compile a coherent history is beyond anyone’s interests. So, in general terms, people have a rough idea of what has gone on for the last one hundred and fifty years, and there is a logical path to trace through it all to where things are now.

Not so the second stage. This was the Raging. This remains the most infamous part of history, the least understood, and the most important. This is where everything changed. This is how the world went from broken civilisations and humans desperately fighting to keep their home to a globe with no coherence, no ruling power, riddled with factions and forces of all kinds. The Raging is where matters went from terrifying to overwhelming. It is, as many say, where everything went mad.

The Raging is a vague term, covering soon after the Shadow World merged with ours to about a century later. Some may even mean from the moment when the Shadow World appeared. It depends on how knowledgable one is. To those with more accurate insight, the Raging didn’t begin for some time after, and lasted about eighty years. Still, when it comes to this period, facts rarely matter.

As far as anyone knows, there was no start to the Raging, no lone event to spark it off. Basically, after Dylan Winter summoned the Shadow World, there was a brief period of humans organising, sharing information, developing counter-actions together. None of it lasted. In fact, talking and sharing globally only helped the spread of mutants, cyborgs and droids, and even as many humans aided each other, they were plotting against one another too. With all the turmoil – political, social, religious – that had been going on, there was never a chance of humanity truly uniting to save itself. As mentioned in the posts about the period preceding this, the human race was already breaking apart before the monsters got involved.

So the feeling is that, once magic became real and our nature was affected, everything was sliding toward collapse, no matter how much strength and unity was presented on the surface. Every sinew of the world was being stretched, until it all snapped.

To give an example, I said before how Great Britain split up and that it had an elected monarchy. After magic entered our reality, it was very strong there. Monsters flocked to the island, so humans fought them, yet many attacked each other as well. It is claimed that the Houses of Parliament were destroyed when a member of the royal family lost their temper and unleashed their newly discovered magical strength. The royals themselves then faced a threat called the Pendragons. This ‘family’ of magic-users were led by King Arthur, returned to save the country. They eliminated the ruling royals and established themselves over London, and then over the surrounding region, although ‘Arthur’ never managed to save the island (or rule it). Incidentally, the Pendragons met their end when they boasted that they had an affinity with dragons, so much so that the one living in the Thames was practically their pet. It proved them wrong.

This is a typical example of life during the Raging. Powerful people taking over, then being defeated. Victory was typically fleeting. Glory had a strong flavour yet always drew dangerous attention. Enemies became allies and then enemies again. Changes led to more changes, and then more, and then chaos.

They say once you let the genie out of the bottle you can’t put it back in again. In this scenario, the genie was armed and dangerous.

As said, there is no starting point to the Raging, hence why some see it as beginning with the Shadow World’s arrival. The first third of this era was dominated by monsters clashing and magical battles occurring. It was as this went on that humans reorganised and developed beings of science, and as those then turned on them, the Raging grew to a new level of madness. Devil-beasts and their minions found themselves competing with armies of super-soldiers in order to exterminate human groups. Droids confronted vandals. Machines began killing anything they could.

That’s what defines the Raging. It was the worst time, exceeding anything since or before. With monsters rampaging, with super-soldiers being churned out, then later rebelling, with aquatics becoming a new worldwide form of life, things went from bad to worse to mayhem. All restraint was lost. All rules were there to be broken.

It was during the Raging that nuclear weapons were used, if there are various accusations about who used them. Biological weapons too. Various war-machines that defied moral laws were unleashed, such as the Hell-Raisers. Computer viruses attacked systems and all global communication was lost. Cities were burned, blasted or brought down. Not a single form of leadership or authority that had existed remained by the end of the Raging. No nation, no empire, no kingdom endured. People were scattered. So much was lost.

I should take a moment from the dramatic prose to clarify something. What’s said above isn’t strictly true, but is deemed so by the vast majority of the world. That’s because they don’t know about Australia, or Australasia as it is now called. Yes the country has changed, flooded as it was with refugees, but Australia still exists, as does its government. The island was closed off to the rest of the world in the early part of the Raging, remaining so ever since. That was the only way to survive.

It isn’t just the beginning of the Raging that has no discernible markings, there is no clear end event either, and everything inbetween is pretty hazy as well. Events are known, yet usually in only a vague timetable. The Raging is not so much about a length of time as about the manner a time was lived. During it, conflict and catastrophe were common; before and after, less so. It is also more remembered for changing the world than the details of how this took place. Therefore it has this fantastical aspect to it. Everything seemed bigger and badder. Magic-users were beacons of power and machines marched over the corpses of millions. The sky was full of fights between aegis and devil-beasts. Nations came and went depending on a magi’s wish or a dragon’s wrath.

Many legends were created during this time. The most famous would be Havoc, the half human, half dragon warrior who revelled in the fighting and ended many powerful individuals. The gang he went on to lead contained others who earned their own fame at the time as well, such as humanoid war-machine, Annihilation, and the incredible psychic, Minx.

I have talked about individuals such as Alpha and Omega in older posts, and also the Beasts.

Others vanished into mystery during the raging. Cyborgs still speak of the First Sect, also known as the Lost Sect, who were the original group to call themselves an order and to define their way of life. Something all others went on to copy. They are perceived, maybe rightly or wrongly, as an honourable and martial organisation; possibly descendants of the Saints of Bushido. Their fate is unknown, yet many claim they were sworn enemies of the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, and lost to their ruthlessness.

Then there is Gilgamesh, the ultimate mutant, made by a group of scientists seeking the perfect humanoid. First they made the ultras, a level above super-soldiers, and then they created Gilgamesh, yet never had the chance to wake him. Betrayed by other mutants who feared their superiority, the ultras lost Gilgamesh as they fled. Now they seek him, yet his name has passed around the world and become legendary, to the point that many mutants worship him as their god.

Returning to the cyborgs, not only did they become a new race during the Raging, but new figures emerged as well. Prime, Jamshid and the Grand Master were all leaders before it began, but in different ways – figurehead of a doomsday cult, wealthy and influential entrepreneur, and finally a general of an army. But all three had to adapt to the new world and did so as they witnessed the cyborg ascension, then influenced it. They were there when cyborgs truly became their own race and they led it in different directions. The formation of sects came later, but once the Raging had passed, these three led arguably the most important sects. They had also learned harsh lessons and were far more patient in their aims to become the only cyborg force.

Japan was evacuated due to wild magic and none have successfully returned to it since. Central America was obliterated. Madagascar was overrun by gleaners, who were reborn in their current hideous forms. The Battle of the Devils took place, where numerous devil-beasts, all bearing some form of name inspired by the evil one, fought to see who could keep their title. Much of the Holy Lands were conquered or ruined while the Tower of Babel rose to stand firm.

The Beasts ruled in this time as well, and deservedly so. These were humans, yet special in some way, containing strength or power that put them on a level with the most dangerous of beings in the world. Some ran rampant and terrorised, others took charge and reigned as tyrants. Today, none know who these people were or how they became so powerful. Names are recited in rhymes, but beyond that, little is certain. The Beasts fought, destroyed and ruled during the Raging, and then they were all gone, defeated, sometimes by each other. They did not begin the Raging, nor did their fall end it, and yet it is fitting that they ceased to be as this tumultuous time period came to a close.

I could tell more about the Raging, and yet that would spoil what is to come, and feels unfair in some strange way. The Raging is famous to the characters I am writing about, they know many tales from then, maybe more than from any other time, yet those tales are hardly factual reports. History is mostly oral now. To reveal the Raging in this blog pulls back a curtain that is important to the characters of today. Their perception of the world and its history, as limited or even mistaken as it can be, is what defines them.

The Raging lasts in the memory because it is an example of how bad things once were, and how bad they could be again. Powerful people and groups think twice before attacking, fearing they may cause more mayhem than intended. Some wonder if this current time is a lull in the storm. How long before major armies march, before mighty warriors and ambitious leaders clash? Could the dragons return? Will the ultras find Gilgamesh and attack all humans, or will Eden break out and lead the human race to total rule of the globe once again?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Seriously, How The Hell Did We End Up Here?

Part Two

(continued from previous post)

Many cyborgs and mutants also came from the east. For some time there was a United Nations for Asia, with many countries having felt the original UN was too western-centric. Things went well and trade flourished. China and India especially benefited, becoming the top powers of the world, spreading their business and influence far. This led to Russia denouncing both, fearing invasion and building bases. The USA disliked this rise to power, yet needed the trade.

However war might well have been inevitable. China and India had minor clashes, then a full blown war. It went on for some time, and much of Asia became involved to some degree. It was heavily suspected that Japan was a secret ally of India, while claiming neutrality. Pakistan went from neutral, if gloating at India’s suffering, to becoming a full ally of India. This was due to several events, not least Chinese soldiers attacking Pakistani people by accident. Or so it was claimed. Also, spies told that China had ideas on the entire region and its leaders were highly anti-Islamic.

Both China and India had strong levels of technology, much of which was geared towards destruction for some time. Neither looked to nuclear weapons or anything like that, though. Both knew such an act would bring in other nations, and could harm their own soldiers if things went wrong. The war was brutal, yet controlled for the most part, and both governments wanted it that way. It enabled a lot of control over their people, for one thing.

When the Shadow World merged with ours, both sides saw new threats, and while peace was never actually declared, the fighting pretty much ended. Monsters had to be fought. Mutants and machines were quickly designed. Yes, they were made with an idea of being used to finish this war, but only once the new bizarre invasion was dealt with. That never happened, of course. Also, that control both governments enjoyed was soon crumbling, with more and more clamouring for peace, among other issues they had with the authorities. In response, the Terracotta Army had become a real power in China, a movement among the people who stood ready to defend their leaders. Many of these loyal and militant citizens volunteered for programmes that enabled new creations to be born. Willing subjects make progress so much easier.

Two other countries that had benefited from trade, especially with China and India, were Brazil and South Africa. Brazil was blooming as an economic power anyway, but once it and the other two sought to trade, South Africa became the middle man, taking in goods and selling on. It received an influx of investment and immigration. Once the war between China and India began, the trade lessened, yet it never ended, and South Africa continued to build on its position as a trading nation. It was one of the few places in the world where factions weren’t prying society apart, although many would claim greed and superficial living had replaced passion and personality.

Further north, Christianity and Islam were at war, although there were geographical and cultural reasons for violence as well. Yet, when South Africa’s wealth began to spread, as did its influence, this provoked socialist spirits. In many nations where riches and power still stood strong, poverty and oppression were equally pervasive. This led to various movements across Africa, Europe and Asia, most of which united to form three major organisations – the Peasants’ Revolt, the People’s Rebellion, the Socialist Renaissance. All three of these were present in Africa, seeking to hang the rich and ready to gun down those who defended them, just as in the other parts of the world. South Africa kept these enemies out, but they were very aware of the threat.

It has been suggested, but none will ever know, that wealthy governments managed to infiltrate and manipulate the three organisations, which is why they went to war with each other. Either way, what was sporadic violence became full on chaos once magic became real and monsters terrorised both rich and poor alike. Yes, humans united to fight the supernatural foes, and yet so many saw this as a chance to strike at those they had hated for so long.

As for Brazil, it was wealthy at the top, poor at the bottom, just more so. With global order breaking down, the UN ending and world power shifting, Brazil sought to become the dominant force in South America. Obviously, this was not welcomed by the other countries, and yet nothing really went wrong until one president came to power by siding with a renewal cult. These movements were fanatical about change happening, they believed the world was heading for a cataclysmic event, and that life would be better for it. This president made the mistake of utilising this fervour, believing that since no event would happen, where was the harm?

Once in power, the fanatics saw it as their time to make change happen. Acts of terrorism and sabotage were soon everywhere. It spread to Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and beyond. This sort of thing was occurring in other parts of the world, true, but not with equal enthusiasm. Elsewhere, these cults were persecuted heavily, but in Brazil they had been endorsed, then supported. Politicians allowed them to act long after they should have stopped them, seeking power first, deeply regretting it later. By then, militarised police forces were out in the streets, using the now infamous Fascista carbine. It wasn’t enough. It was also too late. Cultists who could do magic not only tipped the scales, they went beyond it, not realising their new power; many dying, if willingly, as they embraced this changed world, or even sought to force it further.

Finally, in the Middle East, it could be said that the centuries of its history continued to influence its present. Even as the USA weakened, it remained a staunch ally of Israel, as did other nations. Various political alliances were made, then altered, such as Russia and Turkey’s pact, and also the US of E’s deal with Iran, then later Iran’s trade deal with Egypt and South Africa. Alternative energy sources were growing so dependency on oil was weakening, if not ended, therefore other places meddled less. Europe, for instance, wanted a more stable Middle East to ease immigration concerns, while others sought opportunities to invest. But trouble remained. Some regimes were vulnerable now that world power had altered. There were outbreaks of rebellion against the rich, the previously mentioned organisations growing stronger here by the year, and a number of wealthy families left the region (Jamshid ended up making his life and name in the USA because of this).

Over time, renewal cults, also doomsday cults, grew, as they did in many parts of the world, although often with a more religious aspect to them. There came to be a renewed interest in lost arts and old thinking, in mysticism and faith, and yet also many were looking to the future. Russia and Turkey’s alliance broke and they nearly went to war, yet besides that most nations in the region saw a chance to progress. Weapons sold to the east, other resources to the west and south. Who knows what might have been? Yet once Dylan Winter acted and monsters invaded, the region became a warzone. The holy lands of so many were under attack, and at least it can be said it brought them together amidst the chaos and terror.

As I said in the month old post with the almost same title, the world was fracturing before it was ripped asunder by the Shadow World (not sure I’ve said that enough in this post!). People were agitated, scared, thinking ahead but often regressing too. This can be said of many times in the world’s history; it is usually a place of war, intrigue and suspicion. But this time none of that could be resolved. Where nations competed, where people were divided, where governments were losing control or trying too hard to keep it – all of this was made far worse once, well, you know what occurred. Power to the people was no longer a cry but a reality. Change was no longer sought but here, in brutal truth, as super-soldiers and super-computers served the humans, temporarily. These are just some of the instances and events going on before everything went mad. It was this backdrop that made the Raging possible, and then how the world got to be the way it is now.