Ghost in the Shell, Live Action Film - Review

As a huge fan of the Ghost in the Shell Manga (Comics) and Anime (Animation) films and TV series, I was very interested to go and watch the new Hollywood Live-Action adaption, with Scarlett Johansson as the Major. 

I'm a big fan of the Cyberpunk Genre and it has inspired much of my work, including my recent novel, The New Prometheus. 
I've spoken about the White-Washing issues surrounding this film before elsewhere on this blog so I see no need to get into that too much here. Although it will inform this review.

OK, so let's get into the review, and obviously, SPOILERS from here on out. 

scarlett_johansson_ghost_in_the_shell-wide - Copy.jpg

So, what did I think?
Well, let's break this down into Pros and Cons. 

What I liked about this film:
The visuals on this film are stunning. Rupert Sanders, the Director, clearly is a fan of the franchise, and we obviously wanted to do it justice, and at least visually, he has succeeded. This film oozes style from every frame. It's clear to me that the Director loves the source material, as there is a lot of fan service with scenes lifted directly from, mainly, the original 1995 Anime film, that have then been enhanced and embellished on. The Art direction and the music on the film were excellent. It just looks Awesome. 
He's got the Cyberpunk vibe down perfectly, taking modern tech and pushing it forward to it's extreme. 

What I didn't like:
Unfortunately, for me, the biggest weakness of the film was the plot. It was cliched and pedestrian with clunky dialogue and really dumbed down. It just didn't credit its audience with some intelligence. 
This biggest issue was that they had a huge problem at the core of the film which they had to address and get around somehow, and the way they did it was... not great. 

OK, so the original story, in all previous iterations of Ghost in the Shell is set in a future Japan with Motoko Kusinagi as the main character. 
She's been a Cyborg from a young age and is fully aware of who she is. 

Turning this story into a big budget Hollywood film was always going to be fraught with problems. To do the film right, it needed a huge budget. But, adapting an Anime like this is a risk for the studios, so, they needed something to negate that risk, otherwise the film simply wouldn't have been made. So they needed something to pull in the crowds. The main thing that can do that is a big name star in the lead role. 
Unfortunately, there are no big name female Asian stars that can do that in Hollywood, which is why they cast Scarlett. 
Rupert has already said that by casting her, it gave him a freedom that he would not have otherwise had. Scarlett gave the studios some confidence in the film. 
She's a big name actress, she has geek cred with her role as the Black Widow and has some acting chops. 
But, that also creates a problem. The Main character is Motoko Kusinagi, a Japanese woman with a Japanese name. Changing that name would mean that it's not the same character and would push it away from being Ghost in the Shell. 
At the same time, naming the clearly white actress Motoko, would be jarring, and would require some explanation. 
Luckily, the film has a central conceit that can negate this issue. 
The main character is a Cyborg, a human brain in an otherwise robot body. 
So the brain could come from anyone, of any race, and the shell can look like your big name actor. 

That, in itself, is not a big issue, and handled right, could have been an interesting twist in the themes of Ghost in the Shell. But, it's handling was not great. 
So they trotted out the overused and very cliched 'Amnesiac' story line. She can't remember who she is and it's the big bad corporation man who's behind it.

Amnesia has been used so many times now and frankly, it's been done way better elsewhere. This was a poor imitation really, at best. 

But, it means they can keep the Asian origin of the main character and have the Major be played by Scarlett. 

Personally, I think it could have been handled better. 
I'm not against changing the story. The plot of Ghost has been changed before, several times. The 1995 Anime took a small part of the original manga, the Puppetmaster story, and scenes from the other plots in that book to create the film. 

The TV series also did its own thing, and even explored her past, something not done before. 

So changing it is not an issue. 
In fact, I had an idea about what they could have done which might have been an interesting alternative to the path they took. 

What if in the opening scene, the Major is a Japanese woman. She's on a mission for section 9 and gets very badly injured. She is a valuable member of Section 9, she's dying, and she has info on a terrorist that will die with her.
Section 9 has a contract for Cybernetics with Hanka Robotics. Aramaki asks them to save her using their new and experimental Full Body prosthesis procedure. But they only have one body ready for her, and no time to make another. So she is Cyberized. But wakes up in a white rather than Asian body. In Scarlett's body. 
So, she remember's who she is. She can be shown to deal with her new look. She can muse on identity and race etc etc. It allows for Scarlett to be the Major and it keeps the investors happy while avoiding the cliched Amnesia storyline. 

A couple of other points would be Scarlett's portrayal of her, which I found to be a little over the top.
Her overly masculine walk, her overly robotic movements, none of which looked right for someone who is meant to be a highly trained and skilled agent. 
For instance:
When we follow her into the scene of a killing of a Hanka Scientist, and Togusa turns into a room before her saying, follow me. Scarlett walks up the end of the corridor, seemingly almost to walk into the wall and looks lost for a moment as to where to go before turning abruptly to her left to follow her teammate. Just terrible. 
Scarlett is a capable actress, and did some great stuff in the film too. She is actually good casting for this film, but I think something in the Direction of her acting was a little off. 

Then, when she's finished beating up the garbage man in the water, and she can't stop punching him because she's so angry. Nope, that pulled me out of it too as it was a huge break from her otherwise cold and methodical character. 

So, overall, what did I think?
It's alright. It's not great, but it's not terrible either. There's enough good stuff in there to save it from being an utter failure, but there's too much bad stuff that keeps it from being great. 
It's an origin story, which is fine, I understand that, and I understand they needed to introduce this complex world to an audience that is ignorant of the story. But it could have been handled better and it could have treated the audience with respect and credited them with some intelligence. 

I think the film might have been better with a bigger name director at the helm who could fight off the Hollywood Studio types who likely wanted to dumb down the story somewhat. 

I went to see it with someone who had never seen any other Ghost in the Shell stuff, and she thought the same of it as I did. 

I will almost certainly buy this on disc when it comes out, and I do hope it does well enough to spawn a sequel, and maybe we can get something with a little more depth for the follow up. But I won't be holding my breath. 

The title of my next book

I'm taking a 1 book break from my Urban Fantasy Series to write the first book on my new Cyberpunk Series, and I will then alternate between the Magi and Cyberpunk worlds going forward. 

So, in preperation for that books release, I'm planning things like the look of the Title, and I will also be looking at shooting the cover soon as well. 

So, here's the title of my next book. 

The New Prometheus. 

Hope you like it. 

Ghost in the Shell - From Anime to Live Action

Unless you've been living under a rock on Mars the past month or so, you might be aware of a forthcoming film called Ghost in the Shell. 
The first trailer for which you can see here;

I'm a big fan of the Ghost in the Shell (GitS) franchise, from the original Manga(Comics) to the Anime (Animated Films) and so when I heard about this, I followed its development with interest. 
The film and it's production has come under fire for a number of reasons, one of the big ones being the casting of Scarlett Johanssen as The Major, or, to give her her full name, at last in the Mana and Anime, Motoko Kusinagi. Casting a White Actress in a very definitely Japanese roll has caused all sorts of upset. 

So, as a fan, I have been thinking of writing something and providing my own point of view for a while. 

On hearing of Scarjo's casting, I will most certainly say I was a little disappointed. This is a story that has a strong Japanese heritage and to see someone cast as Motoko who's not Asian, was disappointing, and quite insulting with plenty of people accusing the movie of White-Washing. 
This is nothing new in Hollywood, where they like to play fast and loose with this kind of thing, but, on the flip side, I get why they did it. 
GitS does have a dedicated fanbase, but, it's not by any means a mainstream franchise, not in the west anyway. Most people in the west will not have heard of it. 
At the end of the day, Hollywood is driven by money. These films cost millions to make, so it's totally understandable that the Producers and Studios will want someone recognisable in the lead role. Someone with star power that can draw the crowds and get the film seen by as many people as possible. 
Casting Scarjo will do that. She's perhaps the biggest female star in Hollywood right now, and casting her in the lead role will immediately put the financiers minds to rest. 
From what i understand from interviews with the Director, it was also a very conscious choice. He cast her specifically for this reason so that he could then go onto cast all the others roles how he wanted, giving the film a very multicultural feel, including casting a number of Japanese actors in the lead roles. 
And in that context, I get it, and I can kind of put this issue to bed and get behind it. 
Without someone like Scarjo as the Major, this film would almost certainly not happen, or at the very least, not be the huge mega blockbuster they are hoping it will be. 

The director has also clearly gone to some lengths to make sure that this adaption is quite faithful to the source matrial as well, with many of the scenes looking very much like live action versions of the Anime. Which is Awesome to see. 
The Shelling sequence that was released being one such high point. It looks AWESOME.

OK, I'm going to get a bit geeky now, talking about stuff in the lore of Ghost in the Shell. 

During the whole white washing debate back when Scarjo was first announced, I saw a lot of Fan's backing the choice of Scarjo saying that in the Anime/Books Motoko is meant to be a non-ethnic Cyborg, or that her body was a Specially made one, or that she should look special or different, or that in the world of GitS, the races have mixed and nationalities
 don't exist. One person also said that the "Rangers" of Section 4 are American, bacause the USA has a "Rangers" in it's military. 

Firstly, let's address the issue of Motoko's Cyborg Body. The Major has a Full Cyborg Prosthetic Body, with the only part of her thats organic being her brain. 
In the Manga and ANime, the Body she wears was chosen specifically to blend in. They chose the most common mass produced model and upgraded it. This way, she blends in. SHe doesn't look Special. 
How do I know this?
Because Masamune Shirow, the Creator of Ghost in the Shell said so in the Author notes in the back of my copy of the Manga. 

We can see this in the Anime as well int he middle of the film when Motoko is on a boat travelling through the city and looks up to see an identical version of herself in a window above. 

Also, the idea that Nations don't really exist in GitS is quite wrong. Right at the start of the Manga and in shorter form in the Anime, the first thing we're shown is a bit of text. 

GitS Text.jpg


Much of the story in the film revolves around international politics as well, with the opening Assassination scene being talks between the Japanese Foreign ministry and the Republic of Gavel. 

Finally the Rangers Comment, which refers to one of the Public Security Sections which Batou used to be a part of. 
There are 9 Public Security Sections within this fictional Japanese Government, and Section 9, the Section that our Hero's in this film belong too, frequently recruit from the other sections. 
Section 4 is Nicknamed "the Rangers" and has nothing to do with the USA SOCOM, especially as in the world of Ghost in the Shell, the two World Wars that precede the setting of the Story, World Wars 3 and 4, changed global politics and geography. The USA has been Balkanised, broken into several smaller nations and is not a world leader anymore. Instead, Japan has emerged as the new world power. 
So there's likely no more US Rangers to speak of. 

I also saw people complaining that Scarjo's Major was wearing a strange catsuit thing in a couple of the shots, where as in the Anime, Motoko is naked. 
This is the Shot

And again, I am wondering if these commentators even watched the film. 
This comparison shows quite clearly that she's wearing a similar catsuit in the Anime. 

Am I getting Geeky enough for you yet?

Anyway, I'm likely boring you now by getting a little too in-depth. But, I needed to say these things, far anyone who's interested. 

Suffice to say, at the moment, everything I have seen makes me feel hopeful that this should be a very good adaption, and I have my fingers crossed. 

Also, a few have talked about the plot, and how it changes it from the original Anime. Well, yes, it does. In the Anime Motoko grapples with the problem of humanity. Is she still human with this body of hers, something that's not easy to answer and the film doesn't try to answer it. 
In the trailer for the lice action movie, they seem to have changed it to her wondering who she was before she became a Cyborg and that the company who Cyberized her, have been lying to her. 
The original Anime shows Motoko well into her career at Section 9 and when the Puppet Master comes along, he effectively ends that careers. Her life changes. 

The film won't deal with the Puppet Master storyline. Instead, it will deal with the Kuze Storyline from the TV GitS series, Stand Alone Complex. In that story, Kuze is a figure from Motoko's past as a child, a boy who had to be fully Cyberized, just like she did. 

My thoughts on this are that the Studios want to focus on her early career in Section 9, in the hope of creating a Franchise, a series of films. So it makes no sense to use the Puppet Master story line that will effectively end her career. Instead, they have chosen to focus on her early Career and on a story that focuses on her origins. 
This is an Origin story. 

Makes sense right?

I figure, that if the film is successful, they might do one or 2 more. If they do 2 more, and create a trilogy, which makes sense to me, I suspect the second film will be either the Laughing Man or Individual Eleven story (The Kuze story ties into the Individual Eleven, though, so maybe it will be the Laughing Man), and then film 3 will be the Puppet Master, which ends her Section 9 Career. 

What are your thoughts on the film. 

Magi Saga Book 4 Chapter Excerpt

Here's an excerpt from book 4 for you. This is chapter 1, or more accurately, Prologue 1. 
This has yet to be fully edited. 

Minsk, Belarus
Jan 7th

The air whipped by her as Liz dropped the forty or fifty feet from the rooftop, her hair flying out behind her in golden waves as the gee forces she pulled left her stomach behind. With a sickening crack, she landed on the shoulders and neck of one of the group of German gun runners who had scattered to the winds at the start of their attack. He dropped to the floor and went limp, but she knew from a quick glance that although she’d broken a number of bones in his body, he still lived. 
Gunfire peppered the ground around her and ricocheted off of her Aegis force shield with pops and whines. Moving quickly she ducked behind the truck with the crates of guns in the back as she watched their guest team mate, Rebecca, move round one of the Russian buyers vehicles opposite her in a smooth crouched hustle, Rebecca’s Magically enhanced MP5 9mm Submachine gun with attached silencer help up and ready. Rounding the van Rebecca let off a controlled three round burst at the first man she saw, two to the chest and one to the head, dropping him to the floor. 
Another man popped out before her, only for Rebecca to repeat the process without fuss or problem. 
Rebecca looked like she meant business, both in her actions and in her look. She wore a one piece black catsuit covered in straps with a gun strapped to her leg and two blades to her back. Everything she wore seemed to be Magical. 
Movement caught Liz’s eye from the left side of the Russian group, further across the rank of cars from Rebecca, and watched almost in slow motion as a man saw Liz and raised his gun. He had a clear line of fire from the left side of the Russian group of cars, across the gap to where Liz crouched next to the German groups Pick up Truck. Liz braced herself, only to see the man’s exposed hand explode as Rebecca put a bullet through it from over twenty foot away. Rebecca moved quickly, checking her corners and soon walked round to find the man leant up by the side of the car he hid behind, holding his ruined hand. She put two rounds through his head without any hesitation and continued on, sparing one quick glance to Liz as she moved. 
Rebecca had been assigned to their group at the last moment by the Magi Council. Apparently she came from the Arcanum, the organisation of Initiated – people who knew of Magic but were not Magi – who policed the cross over between the Mortal or Riven population and the Magi. Within the Arcanum were a number of Black Ops Agents, who were used when things got a little out of control, Rebecca was one such agent. Because there would be a strong Initiated element to this mission, the powers that be saw fit to send Rebecca. 
Liz wondered if this might have been as much to keep an eye on them as much as it might be to help them. 
From the other side of the row of cars the Russians had brought, a man appeared and looked out into the space between their vehicles and the German group they had come to deal with. Liz, crouched in the shadow of the truck and wearing all back, seemed to be hidden, and she watched as he checked around before focusing on the three handcuffed men sat huddled on the ground between the two groups of cars and vans. They’d been brought by the Russians, apparently to sweeten the deal, but as the fight broke out, they’d been left in the mud. 
The man, who Liz now recognised as the one who had been leading the negotiations for the Russians, took a couple of steps forward and raised his gun, aiming it at the three men. 
Liz reacted and worked her Magic quickly, erecting an invisible Aegis around the men that would act as a force barrier. As the man fired, the bullets bounced off the shield leaving the men unharmed. 
‘What the hell,’ the man said in Russian. Liz could now speak and understand most languages in the world, thanks to some clever Magic her mentor had once cast on her, implanting the knowledge into her mind. 
Liz didn’t wait, she ran forward at a blistering speed, taking advantage of the man’s confusion as he looked at his gun wondering how he’d missed. He looked up a moment before Liz’s knee slammed into his nose as she jumped at him. With a satisfying crunch, the man whipped backwards off his feet as blood exploded from his nose all over her black leggings. She landed behind him, turned and with a quick twist of Magic in his mind, he fell unconscious. 
Looking up, past the three terrified looking men, she could see Xain and Orion doing their thing with the German Initiated. Orion ran up and over a van, jumping off in a flip, firing his guns as he did it while Xain took on several at once, his sword in one hand and a futuristic looking pistol in the other. His movements were graceful and fluid, but also lethal as blood and limbs flew here and there. 
Beyond them, the side of the warehouse exploded as a huge metal gas tank flew through the wall, widening the hole that was already there. 
The attack had begun with Balor, the huge gargoyle-like Scion who worked with Xain and Orion, swooping down from the night sky in a grey blur and slamming the one attending Nomad Magus through the side of the warehouse. 
Now Balor stepped back through, walking through the flames with a roar as he waded into the waiting men who had opened fire on him. 
A faint noise and a feeling of foreboding made Liz duck and look behind her as a gunshot rang out, aimed for where her head would have been. A shiny black blur then appeared next to the man who had just fired on her. It was Rebecca, she appeared from nowhere, kicking his gun arm up and away from Liz, his gun flying high, and following it up with a keen blade that she buried in the man’s gut several times in quick succession. 
She caught the gun as it dropped and put one round between the man’s eyebrows, dropping him like a ragdoll. 
Two other men appeared next to Rebecca, but she knew they were there. Liz could only watch in awe at this quite small girl as she calmly moved between them at a speed that was difficult to follow and quickly killed them both without breaking a sweat. 
Finished with these two, she picked up her own gun again from where she’d slung it, and paused. 
‘I’ll finished the rest of these off, you get the hostages to safety,’ Rebecca said without looking at Liz before she raised her gun to her eye and moved out. 
Liz nodded, and moved over to the hostages where they crouched in the dirt. With a quick working of Magic, their cuffs dropped from their wrists. 
‘How did you?’ asked one. 
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ said another, but all of them looked relieved and tired but also scared. 
‘Come with me,’ Liz said in their native Russian, and she led them out of the line of fire to the gap between two warehouses. ‘Get in here, come on,’ she said. 
They moved quickly but were all clearly in pain and struggling with their movements. 
‘Who are you guys? Why were you brought here?’ 
‘They hate our lifestyle, Russia is a dangerous place for us,’ he said. 
‘Us?’ Liz asked, confused. 
‘We’re gay,’ they said. 
‘Aaah, I understand now,’ she said. The Nomad Magus that had been watching the deal, who Balor had hit at one hundred miles an hour belonged to the Children of Pain Coven, a Neo Nazi Nomad Coven who operated in eastern Europe. Run by a Nomad called Demitriov who had been very active in the Second World War on the side of Hitler, they were known for their right wing views. 
Their Intel had said that a Magus called Hans would be in attendance, she wondered if Hans would be still alive. 
‘Stay here,’ she said, and moved quickly towards the warehouse Balor had been in and the hole he’d made in its wall. She reached it without incident and looked inside at the terrific mess that the Scion had made. Factory Machines lay in a huge tangled heap directly in front of Liz where Balor had been brought to a stop. No body lay in here, although there did seem to be a bit of blood. 
Liz furrowed her brow in consternation, had Hans got away? 
A shadows fell over Liz, turning quickly she whipped her hand out, only for it to be caught in a huge and unyielding fist. 
‘He Ported away,’ Balor said as he released her arm. 
‘Sorry,’ she said, feeling embarrassed for lashing out at him. 
‘Don’t be, reactions like that could save your life one day. Much like they saved Han’s life today,’ he rumbled, his voice sounding like the grinding together of two boulders. 
‘We stopped the deal though, and saved the lives of three innocents, the day wasn’t a total loss,’ Liz offered. 
Balor looked down on Liz and smiled. ‘As you say.’ 
‘Speaking of which, I think you should make yourself scarce, so we don’t scare the Mortals,’ she said as she looked over the now quiet battlefield. Xain and Orion moved through the German Gun Runners vehicles, looking for any stragglers, while to Liz’s right, she saw Rebecca walked away from the Russian buyers side, scanning the area as she walked. 
‘Agreed,’ Balor said. His great wings spread wide, he launched himself into the air and with a couple of beats of those bat-like wings, he’d disappeared from view. 
‘Heads up,’ came a voice from above. A moment later Stephen Loomis dropped to the ground by Liz’s side and stood up straight. ‘Well done, you were impressive,’ he said. 
Stephen wasn’t a fighter and had only come to watch and offer some Magical aid if there had been more than one Magus here. He also watched the perimeter and kept other Riven away from the fight with a mixture of sound dampening and illusions. They were lucky this time and Stephen wasn’t needed during the fight, but Liz could see the fading Magic around the scene of the fight that had been Stephens doing. 
‘Thank you,’ Liz said, ‘did you have any trouble your end?’ 
‘Kept a few workers away from you and diverted them to safer routes, nothing too stressful.’ 
‘Good,’ Liz said. 
‘One moment,’ he said, and concentrated for a second. Liz felt the Magic roll out from him and consume the Weapons in the crates nearby. Liz watched with her Magic sight and saw the items inside the crates erode and quickly fall to ruin. They were useless now. 
‘Good thinking,’ Liz said. 
Xain and Orion had walked up to Liz and Stephen by now but still remained on alert, watching their surroundings. 
‘I think we’re finished here,’ Xain said. 
Liz watched as Rebecca walked up to the gap between the warehouses and spoke to the hostages who were down there. 
‘You’re safe now,’ she said in Russian. ‘You’re in Minsk in Belarus and you’re free to go. Here,’ she said, and offered them a roll of paper money. She finished with a few pleasantries and moments later Liz could hear the men run off down between the Warehouses as Rebecca walked towards them. 
‘Shall we leave?,’ Xain asked. 
Everyone agreed saying yes, apart from Rebecca, who only nodded. 

With a whip-crack of air, Hans appeared in a dimly lit tunnel, a puff of dust kicked up from his sudden appearance slowly settled around his feet. 
The tunnel had rock and earthen walls held in place with wooden support beams, from which hung the occasional lamp. 
He staggered for a moment and called on his Magic, feeling its power sweep over him and heal the broken bones, cuts and internal damage that had been caused to him by the gargoyle Scion that had taken him by surprise. He leant against the nearest support beam and caught his breath, feeling steadily better. After a few minutes, he called on his Magic and sent his senses hundreds of miles from Warsaw to Minsk and looked upon the scene he had just left. Barely a couple of minutes had passed, but the fight was all over and the Arcadians were leaving. 
‘Scheisse,’ he muttered as he stood tall and cancelled the Magic, buttoning up his now magically restored suit jacket. 
Walking forward, he passed through an Aegis and the main entrance into the Sepulchre of The Children of Pain, the Coven house of Demitriov, the leader of Hans’ Coven. 
The inside of the complex had a clean and utilitarian look to it with its concrete walls and its nineteen forties stylings. The Sepulchre wasn’t huge, but easily and comfortably housed the entire Coven and guests when needed. Located beneath Warsaw, close to the controversial death camp that the Nazi’s had here, this had been Demitriov’s home for as long as Hans could remember. 
Several corridors later, Hans reached the door to his Masters office and knocked. 
‘Enter Hans,’ Demitriov called out. 
Hans walked inside and closed the door behind him before walking over to the front of Demitriov’s desk. Old habits died hard he supposed as he watched Demitriov finish what he had been writing with a Fountain Pen. 
Hand written notes and documents were still used within the ranks of the Magi, both Nomad and Arcadian, for when you have lived for hundreds of years doing one thing, doing anything else seemed unnatural. 
Hans waited, feeling very uncomfortable and not looking forward to Demitriov’s reaction to his news of the Arcadian attack. Before long, his master looked up at him with a questioning look on his face. 
Demitriov kept his hair cut short the whole time, and today wore a suit cut in an old fashioned manor with a single gold swastika pinned to his lapel that gleamed in the light from the desk lamp. 
‘Report Hans, don’t keep me waiting. Did the ruskies go for the deal?’ 
‘I’m afraid there was no deal. We had a problem…’ 
‘What?’ Demitriov asked. 
‘Arcadians, the Legacy I think, they interrupted the deal. I was forced to flee the scene or die,’ Hans said as he looked upon his master, his now clenched fist starting to shake and pure rage filling his face. 
‘Verdammt!’ he roared as he lifted his fist and slammed it onto the desktop in anger

Magi Saga Book 3 Chapter Excerpt

With book 3 just a short few days away, here's an excerpt from the first chapter. 

The Nomad known only as Dust slammed the Arcadian up against the wall, gripping him by the neck, holding him a good foot above the floor where he struggled and clawed at his attacker's hand. 
‘Please, don’t kill me, you can take it…’ he said, struggling to get his words out through the Nomads iron grip. 
Dust had no idea who this Arcadian was, he only knew that he had something he wanted, something he had been hunting, for a very long time now. 
‘Where is it?’ Dust said, his voice rough and deep. He loosened his grip on the Arcadian’s neck by a tiny fraction, just enough so that he could speak clearly. 
‘It’s, it’s in my pocket, here,’ he said, rummaging in his jacket pocket and eventually pulling out a rolled up piece of paper, bound with a leather tie. The Artefact looked so fragile, like it might fall apart if you touched it. 
Dust snatched the scroll away from the man and stuffed it in his own pocket on the outside of his tan coloured leather duster. 
‘There, you’ve got it, you’ve won. Please, can we talk about this now?’ 
‘No,’ said Dust, tightening his grip and pulling a blade from his belt that he slashed across the man’s belly, spilling the Arcadians blood onto the packed earth floor of this ramshackle building. 
The man choked and struggled as his eyes went wide in panic. His hands tried in vain to keep his ropey insides from spilling from his belly, without success. 
Dust smirked, one side of his mouth pulling back in a half smile as he dropped the Arcadian to the floor where he landed on his knees and looked down in horror at his guts that lay curled on the floor like slimy red snakes. 
Standing back, he watched the man try one last desperate use of Magic, but Dust calmly called on the Essentia all around him with his own Magic and dissolved the casting that the Arcadian attempted to use to heal himself. 
Blood bubbled up into the Arcadian’s mouth and dribbled over his chin as he slipped into the cold embrace of death and pitched forward, his face hitting the floor and kicking up a small cloud of dirt. 
The Nomad pulled out the Scroll from his pocket and held it up to look at it. Small and unassuming, it seemed wrong that such a tiny thing could be so valued by Arcadians and Nomads alike. The rolled up parchment was only about eight inches across and felt as light as a feather, it also looked incredibly old. The paper had become creased and discoloured, taking on a yellowish hue that made it appear like it had been dunked in coffee. But Dust knew better than to judge such an item by its mundane appearance. This happened to be one of the most infamous and powerful Magical items known to the Magi world. 
Known as the Lazarus Scroll, the legends of its power were well known, including its ability to resurrect the dead, which is where the name came from. Dust chose not to undo the leather strap at this moment, he’d look at it later when he had more time to sit and study it, for now, he wanted to be on his way in case the Magus he had just killed had some friends nearby. 
He looked down at the body slumped on the floor and gave it a kick. At least he’d been entertaining and put up a bit of a fight. 
Turning from the body he walked across the room that was little more than four brick walls and a pitched corrugated iron roof over a dusty desert floor to reach the exit. 
Opening the door, he came up short, seeing that the exit had been bricked up. Had it been like this when he came in here? He found he had difficulty remembering when he had come in here. He pushed on the bricks but it held firm as he suddenly had the distinct and intense feeling that he wasn’t alone in here anymore. He spun on the spot and fell back against the bricked up doorway in shock. The Man he’d just killed stood there, feet apart, arms wide, blood pouring from his eyes and mouth as his intestines writhed and curled around each other like snakes extending from the man’s belly, reaching out for him. 
Dust tried to move, to get away, but it felt like he’d suddenly been submerged in treacle as moving anything felt slow and ponderous, taking ages while the thing in front of him moved smoothly and quickly. 
As he watched, the man's slashed belly opened wide by itself to reveal rows and rows of wicked-looking teeth as blood and ichor oozed from this horrendous maw. 
Suddenly the snake-like intestines whipped out and wrapped around his legs and started to drag Dust back towards the mouth from which they came from. 
Dust clawed at the floor, trying to grab anything that might allow him to pull himself away, but nothing presented itself. The tentacles flipped Dust over onto his back and as he looked up at the creature’s huge mouth, another tentacle whipped out and wrapped around his neck several times and pulled him in, head first into the tooth-filled mouth in the man's belly. 
He screamed as the mouth distended, opening wide enough to fit Dust’s head into it before it slammed shut with a final chomp. 

Dust woke up, his eyes snapping open as he sat bolt upright on the metal framed bed and stained mattress he’d found in this outbuilding. 
The building didn’t look dissimilar to the one in his dream, apart from the few bits of furniture it had in real life and the light that streamed into the interior through the holes in the walls and roof. He swung his legs off the bed and looked at the scroll that sat on the small cabinet next to the bed. 
He still had it, the Lazarus Scroll, right where he’d left it when he’d drifted off to sleep the night before.