Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Thirteen

Previous chapter: Nasty Little Prank.

Chapter Thirteen: Bad Omen.
I heard of angry works. I didn't expect Isabel to still have the power to paint influence. ~ The Watcher.
It all started when Isabel got worked up into a rage. She rushed off and made a very quick sketch that was later drenched in red. It showed two people fighting on top of a cliff. Isabel put up the painting after glaring at it, then stormed off to the master bedroom to have a long nap.
Isabel drew this.
She didn't expect Francesca to get influenced, however. In fact, the falling figure in the painting bore a resemblance to Isabel's cousin, having a very long ponytail trailing behind it. Francesca blew up when she saw the picture and felt insulted by the doodles. She stormed downstairs to where Hera was jogging on the treadmill while watching television.

Francesca plopped down on the pink sofa near the stairs and sighed angrily. "Something eating you up?" Hera asked. Francesca snorted in reply, Hera's voice was too chirpy for her liking at the moment. The brunette got up and poured herself a glass of soda. It was at that moment that Attie came back from work at the police station.

"Oh Attie~"
Francesca walked up to the Lion and said in a very sickly sweet voice, "Attie dear..." while carrying the soda daintily.

"What?" said Attie, as she leaned in closer to her brown-haired cousin. Hera chuckled when she saw a predictable plot twist in the current soap opera on television.

"Take that!"
"Mehehe."
Francesca suddenly poured the soda all down Attie's front. "Take that! How dare you make fun of my back end?!" yelled Francesca.

Attie shook the drops of soda out of her hair and frowned. "Why do you think throwing soda down my front will help?" she asked, as Francesca grinned.

"Crocodile face!"
"Your face looks like a crocodile. Tick tock tick tock, tick tick tick!" Francesca exclaimed, ignoring Attie's question.

"I'm not a clock-o-dile," Attie remarked, looking ready to cry. "What's wrong with you?"

"The problem's with you, not me!" Francesca replied. "Mean old lady who mocks me all the time."

"This calls for a distraction," thought Attie. "Fran, there's a three-headed monkey in the house," she said and pointed behind her cousin.

"Oh really?" said Francesca. She refused to look over her shoulder, so she didn't get startled by Attie's little roar. The Lion blinked and stepped back, wringing her hands. Then she decided to do something drastic.

"Alright, I'm sorry," Attie said. "Let's shake hands. No funny business from me."

"Hm, okay then," Francesca said, looking out of big black eyes as she put out her hand again. Attie was ready to jab her cousin's hand, but set the pin out too soon.

The pin backfired on Attie.
Ok, never mind that.
It was Attie's turn to jump up in shock when she accidentally stabbed herself with the hidden pin. Francesca stepped back until the shock ran its course.

Attie grinned nervously once the shock wore off. "Yeah, about that... It was a reflex," she said. Francesca shrugged, then giggled.

Doesn't appreciate pranks.
"So, what got you so mad?" Attie asked, since Francesca was no longer cross.

"I-I saw a picture that really set me off," said Francesca. "Not to mention your prank the other day when you zapped me."

"What's wrong with that?" said the Lion. "You didn't seem cross then."

"It was your laughing at my backside that was the last straw. I don't like being made a fool of, you hear me?"

"Right. I hear you," said Attie. "I'll back off from playing tricks on you. Hm, I wonder how Hera would take it if I played tricks on her instead."

"Oh, don't you try that, I heard you," Hera said. "Even if you two sillies thought I wasn't paying attention. What picture?"

"I think Isabel drew it. She drew someone pushing me off a cliff."

"What on earth?" Hera said in surprise. "Isabel doesn't usually draw violent pictures," she said as she hopped off the treadmill. "Shall I ask her what she meant by drawing that?"

Francesca nodded. Then the three of them heard Isabel's footsteps on the stairs. The elder Lion Twin had finished her nap.

Hera was first to speak, "Why did you draw that fight upstairs?"

"What fight?" asked Isabel, raising her eyebrows. "Wait, you mean that red painting?" When the others nodded, Isabel explained, "I was upset about the national news when I was drawing, and made that. I wasn't thinking... Let's hope this is not an omen for the coming days."

Next chapter: An Upsetting Week.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Twelve

Previous chapter: One More Outing.

Chapter Twelve: Nasty Little Prank.
Cheeky little sod, that lion. ~The Watcher.
It was one of those calm evenings on a day off after hectic days of work. Francesca was running on the treadmill when Isabel came back from the museum. Attie was watching a squash match on the television as her shift ended early.

"Where's Hera?" Isabel asked.

"She took the evening shift at the computer club this time," replied Attie. "How's work?"

"Fine, I'm giving tours about local artists for the time being," Isabel said. "How's your work going?"

Francesca said as she continued pacing on the treadmill, "I'm now proofreading consulted articles for the likes of Cosmo, Hello, and Women's Weekly. The day before yesterday, I had to deal with an angry reader and I called security on him once he started saying I was a pathetic loser. Just because I wrote a short piece about villain-worship-syndrome and how straightforward heroes should have more love."

Attie rolled her eyes. "That's nothing compared to what I did a few days ago," the younger Lion said.

"Try me," said Francesca. "Maybe your adventures top having to deal with a troll who thinks all heroes are lame-brained losers and only villains are worth one's time. Pah, pah, and PAH!"

"We were raiding a smugglers' hideout, had to choose between the basement or the attic. We chose to get into the attic, but the smugglers came back," said Attie, "I held back the line for my team to escape, then got out by rappelling down with bedsheets tied as ladders before the smugglers saw us." Francesca nodded, almost doubting the fanciful story.

Just then, the squash match took an abrupt turn as one of the women fumbled the serve. Francesca peeked over her cousin's head to watch the match. "Nicol David saves it again! One up over by the wall, she catches it and hits back before the second bounce..." the sports reporter blared. Attie was as calm as ever.

"She really deserves the moniker Squash Queen," Francesca remarked, then yawned suddenly. Attie nodded in agreement. Isabel took out a bowl of soup and sat at the table to eat it. The squash match ended with a victory for miss David, so Attie and Francesca went to help themselves to dinner. They joined Isabel at the table.

"Now, why are you so sleepy, Fran?" Isabel asked her cousin, who looked about ready to drop beside her soup. Francesca mumbled something in reply.

Attie got up. "I don't know what she just spouted, but I've got something to help," she said. "Fran, please get up."

Francesca got up and shuffled over to her second-eldest cousin. "What is it?" she asked, then put out her hand.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Eleven

Previous chapter: A Little Solitude, Please!

Chapter Eleven: One More Outing.
I'd like to clean up their pasts, but I can't fix everything. ~The Watcher.
It was a particularly gloomy morning when Francesca woke up crying. She wiped her eyes as she got out of bed. "The nightmares came back. Always the same. I'm locked away as a toy to some rich person and not allowed to 'suffer' the mundane," Francesca muttered, her heart feeling hollow yet heavy. "But the way I was treated in the dream made 'mundane' life bearable."

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed?
She logged on to her computer and tried to distract herself by playing Puzzle Cove. It didn't help, although Sinopia collected some more money in her fortune. After an hour, Francesca logged off from the game and browsed random things, including ideas for work in the next few days.

The bad dream still bothered her as she read jokes. She heard one of her cousins call everyone to breakfast, so she shut down the computer and went downstairs.

"It's not like I can tell Attie or Hera about the nightmares, they won't understand. I told Isabel about these nightmares before we moved here, but I don't want to burden her again with the same," Francesca thought as she took a plate of pancakes and sat down to eat them. They were coated with a thin layer of honey and topped with a cube of boiled pineapple, which she enjoyed.

She listened to her housemates go on about work. Attie complained, "I don't understand it, why on earth do I keep missing the meetings when I stay to work overtime? Even if I drink some energy soda, I crash anyway."

"You should lay off the soda, it's bad for you," Hera remarked.

"Who's the dunce who decided to fix a programming bug and ended up taking the blame?" Attie snapped back. "I didn't ask for your advice. Next time, tell tales on your coworker. Sneak, it's not that wrong to tell tales when it's something important."

Isabel glanced over to Francesca and said, "Hot day, isn't it?" Francesca nodded. "Don't get snappy, dear cousin," Isabel continued.

"I won't, not without good reason," Francesca replied as she finished her pancakes. She left the plates for Attie to wash up. The younger Lion was still complaining to herself when Francesca went back upstairs to brood.

Hera was about to see herself in the mirror.
"I need to catch up on my running," Hera said when she saw herself in the mirror. "But first, I've got to settle my work for the computer club. Good thing I'm off today."

--------

Francesca went out by herself again when Hera was napping, and after the Lions had gone to work. She sent a simple message to alert Isabel just in case. This time, she headed to the public park. "Maybe I can stop thinking about those nightmares if I hang around other people," she thought.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Ten

Previous chapter: More Voodoo and Hoodoo.

Chapter Ten: A Little Solitude, Please!
To Francesca, Japanese is a second language. One she speaks badly. ~The Watcher.
It was a fine morning as Attie padded downstairs. She found her twin washing up her breakfast plate in the sink. "Morning, sis," the younger Lion said as she got some vanilla cream from the fridge. As she scooped it into a bowl and topped it with raspberries, she asked, "How's the day?"

"I'm alright," said Isabel. "I screwed up a painting at work yesterday but nobody else out of this house knows about it."

"Why?" Attie wondered, sitting down with the cream pudding.

"I named it something else because I thought I'd screw up even worse if I tried to fix it."

"What'cha call it?" Attie asked, now curious. Isabel sat in the chair opposite her twin and grinned.

"Candy Gramps," Isabel said with a giggle. "Nobody noticed that it was supposed to be of Nefertiti before I painted it wrong." Attie snorted with laughter as well when Hera came out of her room for breakfast.

Attie ate some pudding.
Hera ate pudding for breakfast too.
Hera plopped into a chair after grabbing some quick pudding from the fridge. She chirped, "I didn't know you had the heart to be a prankster, Isabel."

"My pranks are harmless unlike certain imbeciles," Isabel said, "I don't mean you, Attie," she added when her twin scowled.

"That's good to hear, cause someone in this house is too gloomy for pranks," said Hera. "It's your cousin."

"She's usually uptight about practical jokes," said Attie. "She's a sad snob."

Francesca slunk by.
"Speaking of sad," Hera said, "Your cousin looks like she'll burst into tears at any minute. I think she's still homesick or has unfinished business in New York."

At that moment, Francesca slunk by the half-wall separating the kitchen from the hobby corner. She looked down at the floor and avoided the others' gaze. Her phone went off with a shrill voice screeching about mirrors. She picked up the phone and held it to her ear as Hera and Attie ate their puddings.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Nine

Previous chapter: Voodoo Tricks.

Chapter Nine: More Voodoo and Hoodoo.

Pleased as punch with the success of her first prank, Attie decided to continue playing with the dolly in the afternoon. She tossed it up and down and swung it by its arms, occasionally confusing Francesca when she felt like she was floating. Hera went to the computer club to work again, as per her routine, so the Lion Twins and Francesca remained home in the evening.

"I've got Hercules, Casino Royale, and Johnny English on the record tonight," Attie said to her cousin and twin. "Shall we vote?"

"I'm not in the mood for movies, Attie," Francesca said. "Ask Isabel," she added.

"You decide, Attie, I'm busy preparing food for tomorrow," the elder Lion said. Attie looked at the video previews again and chose to watch Casino Royale.

When Francesca went upstairs to browse the web on her computer and Isabel was engrossed in making the next day's meals, Attie took out the doll. She grabbed the prodder and stabbed it in the dolly's heart.

Furious.
Too angry to slam the door.
Francesca was busy reading some story and beauty tips when she felt a burning pain. The pain shot from Francesca's heart to her head, then radiated all over her body. She stomped out of her room in a rage. She was so angry with the pain that she couldn't be bothered to slam the door. "What's wrong with me?" she groused. "I feel like beating the snot out of something."

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Eight

Previous chapter: Faraway Tree Found.

Chapter Eight: Voodoo Tricks.

It all started when Attie ordered a dolly from the internet. It wasn't the first thing on her mind. To be fair, she had been browsing joke sites, superhero stories, and Reddit all afternoon when she came across an advertisement for a voodoo doll.

"Stuffed with magic herbs and comes with its own prodder," Attie said when she read the ad for the dolly. "Jinx your buddies and make them puppets of your will. Disclaimer: Success rate varies."

"It costs twenty dollars," she remarked when she read the price. "Pretty cheap for a magic trick ever since I worked that desk clerk job. Well, I'm ordering one for myself." So she did, and read that the package would arrive in a few days.

--------

It was the weekend when Attie received the package in the mail. She eagerly opened it after dinner while her housemates were chatting about their work, but had to wait till the next morning to try the dolly out.

She woke up early the next day before her twin Isabel, and crept over to Francesca's room. It was silent save for a little sleep-giggle now and then. Attie changed her clothes as she meant to get in some taekwondo practice before brunch.

Attie took out the doll and examined it. It was wrapped in a sheet of instructions. She unwrapped the doll and read them. "Bind the dolly to anyone you know of. You can stab the doll to irritate a real body, make it dance to cheer them up, or kiss it up to make them ready for love," the sheet read.

Attie decided to kiss up the doll. To her surprise, the doll became indignant and threatened her with its prodder.

"Whoa there dolly!"
She jerked the doll away so that it wouldn't stab her in the face. The doll continued to wave the prodder at her, so she spoke to it in a trembling voice, "Don't stab me, I'm not going to hurt you."

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Seven

Previous chapter: Finding The Faraway Tree.


Chapter Seven: Faraway Tree Found.
So much for a literary parody. ~The Watcher.
Things went on as usual until the next morning, after a simple breakfast. Hera whipped out her phone and said, "Fran, let's take a picture!"

"Selfie?" Francesca asked.

"No, not selfie, and it's not a groupie either," Hera replied as she stood beside her friend. "Now, smile up!"

The two smiled, and Hera snapped a shot.

"Say cheese, bub!"
The two friends looked at the picture. "See? You're so cute!" Hera exclaimed.

"You look good, too," Francesca said, pointing out Hera's shocking blue eyes.

"It's not everyday you see a blue-eyed black," Hera chuckled. "Anyway, I'll go for a spot of violin playing before I have to work at the computer club again. See you."

As Hera strode off, Francesca glanced around. Attie had gone off to the police station, and Isabel was washing the plates while in her pajamas. Isabel dried her hands after putting the plates away.

She whispered the secret into Isabel's ear.

How to Make A Character: Francesca Takahashi

Part of a series of how I actually went about redesigning leftover character concepts. Expect explanations on my design principles behind the Lion Twins and Herakaris in the coming weeks.

Original Incarnation.
There's not much given about Francesca Takahashi in Artix Entertainment's HeroSmash. No surprise, as the character who inspired her was called Demolicious. The original character was a guardian of a powerful artifact, Pandora's Malachite.

The NPC in question.
The official art style of the game made her appear slender, but I found this inaccurate considering she was shown throwing her wrecking ball with great force. She seemed stoic but broke down when she was defeated in her storyline.

All she wanted to do at that point was help her ill father, but she never got the chance. It seemed that she had no mother, possibly because she was never mentioned at all. The consensus among players was that Demolicious' mother was dead, though I believed that her mother had run away.

How She Got Her Name.
Unfortunately, I can't take credit for naming this character Francesca, even though I gave her the surname Takahashi. It was another HeroSmash player who suggested that. Why? The reason has been lost to time. I do find that this name gives an image of someone who's of noble ancestry.

Back when she was a side character in my old HeroSmash story American Lions, her civilian name was Toriko* Takahashi.

*Bird-child, badly translated on purpose.

In My Hands.
It seemed straightforward enough for a non-player character in a fanfic, being a side character who didn't have much of a role. As I continued to expand her backstory along with the other characters', I felt that she had a bigger hand in the mythos of the game, if only Artix and co. would explain it. They never did, for the game was suddenly abandoned in late 2011, never to be officially continued again.

Regardless, I stuck to two major ideas in Francesca's appearance: corpse-like and stout. In this regard, my fanart depicted her with these two ideas. As she had gotten injured by a robot in my old story American Lions, she also had a huge scar on her right thigh.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Six

Previous chapter: Childminding Again.

Chapter Six: Finding the Faraway Tree.

My chosen ones can pursue their hobbies now that they're not being crushed by supervillains. ~The Watcher.
Francesca had taken a day off from writing and proofreading for the SimLady magazine. She wondered what she should do with herself as her housemates had gone to work. "I can't lie around all day, I need to observe people and get some ideas on the current cultural trends," she thought. So she went to the park again.

When she got there, she regretted her decision, and busied herself by admiring the parts of nature instead.


She picked at a little rocky outcrop and peeked into an old log to pass the time. She then tried her luck at catching frogs by the fish pond. The frogs kept hopping away, as she didn't want to fall head first into the pond.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Five

Previous chapter: Babysitting at Dinner.

Chapter Five: Childminding Again.

Child rearing? Not the first thing any of my chosen would go for. ~The Watcher.
A week went by after the four housemates had started their jobs. By the weekend, Isabel and Francesca got promoted to full-time shifts, and Attie was making a little headway beyond a receptionist for the local police.

Hera, on the other hand, had a hell of a time as she was pushed right into learning Actionscript and Basic. She managed to slog her way through the programming classes provided by the computer club, and eventually rearranged her schedule a bit.

"I didn't know how much effort goes into making video games," Hera groaned as she flopped on the sofa in front of the television. "Should I stop complaining about them?"

"You can complain about them, within reason," Attie said with a snort of laughter. "Or else we'd still be stuck in the pixelated era of games."

"Indie companies are going back to the pixelated look, just with advanced gameplay," Hera said. "Plus better music."

"Right, you can't say something without shoehorning Broadway in," Attie sneered. "Do you ever have anything else on your brain besides Broadway and games?"

"She has Nightshade on the brain," Francesca piped up.

"If my dog could sing and dance, I'll ask her if she'd like to join me on Broadway," Hera murmured.

"You've only got a few years to do that," Francesca said, then looked glum. "Dogs live for about a decade on average."

"Oh, please don't brood so much," said Isabel, as she stood beside the long sofa the other three were sitting on. "You look so pitiful when you're sad."

Francesca's phone rang at that moment. "S'cuse me," she said, and got up to answer the call.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Four Stars Chapter Four

Previous chapter: Later That First Week.

Chapter Four: Babysitting at Dinner.

"Surely something will crop up soon." ~The Watcher.

While Francesca was playing about in the park, Hera decided to trim herself on the treadmill. It would have gone well if it wasn't for one thing, clumsy feet.

Hera fell down.

She fell and knocked her head on the floor, along with her elbows and knees.

She got up awkwardly.
"Gosh, I shouldn't have set the treadmill so high," Hera muttered as she hopped back on. She continued running until Francesca came back.

"Hi Hera," Francesca said when she saw Hera run. "How's your day?"

"Good," the skinny woman replied. "How did your park outing go?"

"I introduced myself to a young mother, and her kid. Ouellettes."

"Oo- what?" Hera asked, trying to watch Gordon Ramsay as he stuffed a chicken with mashed chestnuts on television. "What kind of name is Ouef?"

"French, I guess. They're not named after food."

"Alright. When will the Lions be back, Fran?"

"Attie will be back soon, Isabel's not back till five. Did you make anything for dinner?"

"I made a salad, I had trimming on the brain instead of Broadway," Hera explained, as Francesca made a face. "Look, I don't cook as well as I conduct," Hera continued. "Deal with it, bub."

"No wonder you're watching Gordon Ramsay's show. When's your job starting?"

"Ten o'clock tomorrow morning, game tester at the local computer club," Hera said tersely. "I'll be back after sundown."