#127: Final Fantasy

I’ve loved video games my whole life.

The first game system I ever received was a Nintendo Entertainment System. I must have been three or four years old at the time. The first video game I ever remember seeing was Super Mario Bros. I remember watching my parents play it once in the living room together, with my mom not doing very well and asking my dad questions about how to play it. Funnily enough I don’t have a specific memory of playing the game, although I must have at the time. I do remember my earliest memory of playing a game, and it was Mega Man II, also for NES (although at the time we all just called it the system “Nintendo”). I remember sitting in my mom’s room, with the game hooked up to a television on her dresser, and watching the opening scene of a camera panning up a building to Mega Man standing with his helmet off on top of the building.

I remember how difficult Mega Man was. I could never get further than one or two levels in, and once I actually managed to make it all the way through to the final level and couldn’t beat it. I remember playing the original Super Mario Bros, and an old lady who babysat me tried to teach me the trick to getting 99 lives with a turtle shell. The second video game system I got was a Sega Genesis. In the early 90’s, everyone picked a side in what became known as the “console wars”: either you were a Nintendo person, or a Sega person. It’s not that you necessarily only liked the games from one system or the other, everyone loved all the games, it’s just that the systems were so expensive that no one’s parents could afford to buy them both. To have both was a big deal. I only happened to have both by luck, because my cousin, whose name is Andy (and who will reappear soon in this story), was getting rid of his Sega Genesis and sold it to my mom. I’m not sure for how much but for some reason my memory tells me 50 bucks. I have no clue if that’s true or not.

My first Sega game was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, along with Taz-Mania, a game about the Loony Tunes character Taz the Tasmanian Devil. Fun fact: I was surprised to learn Tasmania is an actual place later on in school, I always assumed it was a made-up place from Looney Tunes. Anyhow, a lot of people fondly remember the first Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s opening level Green Hill, with nostalgia, but for me it was the second game. I actually never even played the first game until years later in elementary school, and was kind of aggravated by the lack of a spin dash ability.

I loved Sonic 2. I played it constantly. Eventually my cousins who were around the same age as me wanted a video game system, so my mom came up with a rule that I could only have one of my two game systems at a time, and if I wanted one, my cousins got to use the other. I still think that was a stupid rule, particularly because I always chose my Sega Genesis, and eventually my Nintendo just became their de facto possession, and they lost it.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But it was mine.

Just saying.

Anyhow, like I was saying I loved Sonic 2. I loved the levels and the characters of Sonic and Tails, and during school I used to draw pictures of Sonic running around on the back of my school papers. I don’t know if schools still do this but at the end of the year the teacher would give our parents a folder filled with all of our work from that year, which make pretty great keepsakes. My mom still has many of my Sonic the Hedgehog drawings, which I was constantly getting in trouble for doodling.

The thing that I loved most about Sonic, though, was the music. Chemical Plant and Mystic Cave Zone especially. My aforementioned cousin Andy (the one who sold my mom the Genesis, not his two sisters who always got to keep one of my game systems) always knew more about video games than I did, was always a more skilled player than I was, and always had something interesting to show me. I used to watch him play in awe, and I was very entertained just watching. He revealed to me that there were cheat codes to Sonic 2, which he had memorized, and he would sometimes put them in and show me Super Sonic, who could jump incredibly high and fly through levels at triple the speed of Sonic. I was amazed by Super Sonic, by his shiny yellow hair and his ability to float in the air as stars rippled past him, and by the way he would cross his arms and stand on his tiptoes, looking regal and powerful, when you stood on the edge of a clif. I also loved the Super Sonic music that played, and I would go to the sound test menu and turn on the Super Sonic music, then turn the volume way up on the television, and run around the house as Sonic, jumping on the furniture and making up stories about Sonic’s adventures.

Incidentally, Andy refused to tell me the cheat code and never did, I learned them when I got older and found them online. He did input them for me and let me play as Super Sonic sometimes, but he seemed to enjoy not telling me and keeping the information a secret from me. Once, after I begged him incessantly, he finally wrote the cheats down on the back of an envelope, and it turned out they were completely fake and not the real cheat.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But really, he should have just told me the damn cheat codes.

Andy was to be a pivotal player in my love of video games. He always had the newest systems and the newest games, and he would always let me play them, though usually I had to spend most of the time I visited watching him play, but even still, I was fine with that. I never really got to play much of the Super Nintendo, I had an aunt and uncle who had one along with Super Mario World, and on a few occassions I would visit and get to play, but I never had a Super Nintendo of my own. I still loved playing Super Mario World for the limited time I could, though. Anyhow, Andy eventually got a Sega Saturn, which I was entirely interested in due to it’s complete lack of Sonic the Hedgehog games, though I did watch him play Panzer Dragoon, and was pretty stunned by the graphics.

It’s funny now to look back at older video games and think of how stunning the graphics were to people at the time. But good game designers have tried different ways of creating beautiful games, and some of them have stood the test of time. For instance, I still think Super Mario World looks incredible, but unlike many other games it isn’t because of superior graphics as much as it is superior art design. The characters and environments are drawn in a style similar to cartoon animation, which means that they hold up over time. The opposite of this would be games like Doom or Goldeneye, who tried to go for a very realistic aesthetic, and as such look like paper mache pasted onto polygons now. I think that games that use an animated style, or any style that resembles animated art rather than realistic art, hold up over time.

I had only ever heard of Zelda as a game for the Gameboy, a device which I found fascinating. Gameboys were the first real handheld video game systems, apart from little handheld poker or Yahtzee games with little light up screens that had the game built in to the system. The first Gameboys were massive and heavy, with tiny little screens that were always green, and the games were black and white except for the fact that the screen was green, so they were more black and green than anything else. There was also a slew of accessories, my favorite of which was a huge clip-on magnifying glass that went over the screen and made everything look bigger, along with “worm lights,” which were glorified reading-lights that plugged in and lit up your screen in the dark (back-lit screens, surprisingly, would not arrive until much later). I had an aunt (Andy’s mom) who apparently loved Zelda and though she never let me play it I’d seen her playing it on her Gameboy (the game, by the way, was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening). I later saw the original Zelda for Nintendo but never found it terribly interesting, and always died very quickly, along with having no clue where to go.

Andy had a Nintendo 64 and I saw him play a lot of great games: Wave Race was the first one I saw, followed by Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and then shooters like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Forsaken, and many others. In those days video stores still existed, and in video stores there was a video game section where you could rent games. I both watched and played a lot of Nintendo 64 games through Andy, who would let me play his consoles while he was busy with something else when I visited him.

Andy eventually moved in with me and my mom when he was sixteen and I was about seven years old. He’d had a falling out with his mom, and in my family throwing your children out is a somewhat common occurence, so my mom took him in. I fell in love with Andy. He was the older brother I’d always wanted. I actually had an older brother but he’d been adopted before I was born by a relative who lived somewhat far away and didn’t allow us much contact, so Andy became my older brother. I totally worshipped him. I followed him wherever he went, I listened to his music and sang along with him, I watched movies with him, I read his video game magazines and played his games when he was busy, I watched eagerly as he played and asked questions which he patiently answered (being an adult now and having played video games next to kids who are around the age of seven, and listening to the endless barrage of questions, I understand just how patient he was with me, which is kind of surprising because I remember him not having too much patience).

Andy’s influence was a really big part of my life at that age. Because I didn’t listen to anyone but him. I wasn’t a bad or disobedient kid, it’s just that I did what Andy said, when he said it, and I did it happily. I loved his approval, and I did not question or argue with him. My mom probably used this to her advantage a few times and had Andy order me to do something that I wouldn’t do when she asked. Andy also began to go through a phase that a lot of white guys in the 90’s went through of adopting a lot of mannerisms and speech patterns of black culture. In the south, they have a word for this, which is “wigger,” a very crass portmanteu of the words “white” and, well you can guess the other one. He started listening to a lot of rap music (although he also listened to a good bit of alternative 90’s rock, provided it was a male artist, so I heard a lot of Third Eye Blind, Sublime and Sugar Ray in those days), and went through a very long Insane Clown Posse phase. To his credit, he never became the kind of cult-like devoted “juggalo” follower the band is known for having, he just enjoyed getting high and listening to their music and laughing at the absurdity of it.

My world changed in a profound way one day when I came home from school. I walked into the living room to find Andy just starting up a game. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a Nintendo 64 game, it was actually a Playstation that he was playing. I do remember seeing people with Playstations around that time, and I remember seeing games like Crash Bandicoot and some of the wrestling games that had a huge surge of popularity in the 90’s (along with professional wrestling itself, which was more or less a glorified soap opera with people throwing each other around and bouncing off of ropes), but I don’t know if it was before or after this moment.

This moment was important. This moment is imprinted on my memory. It’s the moment that everything in my life came into focus. It’s the moment that I became a writer, a musician, and an artist. I didn’t know all of that yet, but this is the moment that it started.

The game was called Final Fantasy VII (Andy had to explain to me what roman numerals were, and that the symbol meant “seven”). It was the start of the game, and Cloud Strife had just hopped off of the train and stood with his back to the camera. His blocky, pixelated form didn’t look silly to anyone at the time, in fact the graphics were great. The first thing I noticed was his spikey blonde hair. Now, I hadn’t watched Dragonball Z at the time, and didn’t know anything about Super Saiyans, but I remembered thinking that I recognized the game he was playing and said “Hey I know that guy! Who is it?” but I’d never heard of Cloud. Looking back, I must have thought it was Super Saiyan Goku, although paradoxically I don’t remember seeing the episode of Dragonball Z in which Goku goes Super Saiyan until a bit later, and I THINK that I was watching the show as new episodes came out.

At any rate, I was intrigued by the spikey blonde haired character, and sat down to watch Andy play. I had never seen a roleplaying game before, and I was confused about the fact that instead of actually moving around and slashing the sword with the buttons on the controller, Andy was selecting commands from a menu, and then the characters would go forward and do what he told them. Even though it was new, I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching a green aura swirl around Cloud as he did his magic incantation pose and throw lightning bolts or blocks of ice at enemies.

Final Fantasy VII quickly became everything to me. I think that what did it was the music. The music was so beautiful, so intensely beautiful, so world-changingly beautiful. I’d never heard anything like it. The song that always stands out the most in my mind is called Anxious Heart. It plays several times in the game, but it’s the area music for the Train Graveyard. I remember watching Andy play this area, and my mom was chatting with someone who was in the room, and actually made a comment about how these new video games had this cool incredible music. I’ve never forgotten her saying that. It was true, the music was incredible.

My favorite was the battle theme. I heard it constantly because there are endless amounts of battles in the game. I remember one morning when I woke up, and I heard that battle song as I woke up, and I instantly became filled with excitement and ran into the living room, jumping up onto the couch beside Andy to watch the action. I would stand in the living room floor and watching the battles, singing the battle music in “dum dum dum”s and mimicking the actions, standing in battle position and moving like I was slashing a sword, doing the character’s victory poses.

I loved Final Fantasy VII in a way I had never loved anything before. I was completely enraptured, watching this game. I was fascinated by everything, by the characters, by the battles, by the monsters the characters fought and summoned, by the villain Sephiroth, who was cool and soft-spoken and terrifying, by the artwork in the game’s manual which I tried to copy in my sketchbook and draw pictures of. I even drew little figures of Cloud and Sephiroth in battle, holding their swords, and I cut them out of the book and made the two little flat drawings fight one another.

Andy bought an unofficial strategy guide which I used to gleefully look through, looking at the pictures from the game and the incredible illustrations of items and materia, which I thought looked so beautiful and real. And even to this day, I think that the pre-rendered backgrounds of Final Fantasy VII are beautiful. Some of them hold up better than others, but the decision to put the game on pre-rendered backgrounds filled with lush forests, barren snowscapes, and brilliant skylines was a great one, and it’s caused Final Fantasy VII’s environment to age significantly better than, say, Tomb Raider, which looks like a pixelated polygonal mess now.

Andy beat the game, and then some. He did all the sidequests, he spent a long time breeding and racing chocobos. One day he was racing chocobos all day, and during that day he made us lunch, a huge pot filled with barbecue sauce, spices, and cut up hot dogs, which was so incredibly hot and spicy that I had to drain an entire glass of Sun Drop with every bite. It was a bright day, there was a sliding-glass door in the living room, and everything was perfect and bright and happy. I was so happy watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Everything in my life just came into focus when he was playing that game.

He wouldn’t let me play the game on my own because he was afraid I would overwrite his save file. I know he restarted the game many times, and I remember one time he restarted the game and gave the characters funny names, which he and his best friend, our next-door neighbor, found amusing to no end. It was kind of funny to see the characters all calling Cloud “Asshole,” Barret “Dr. Dre,” and Tifa “Bitch.” I mean, it was juvenile, but we were literally juveniles. Me much more so than them.

I remember one night I was watching television and I heard the opening music of Final Fantasy VII in the other room, and immediately bolted into the living room to watch Andy play. My older brother did actually come to visit once, and while Andy was away we played his Playstation (which I was EXPRESSLY forbidden to do when he wasn’t home, and I was PARTICULARLY not supposed to play Final Fantasy VII because I might scratch up the game disc or mess his Playstation up in some way). My brother and I played through the opening section in Mako Reactor No. 1, although I think I did most of the playing, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was I doing well, I actually beat the guard scorpion, the game’s first boss. Andy found out about this and got really angry, because from that point on, his disc 1 would always lock up at the FMV scene where the bridge breaks on Mt. Nibel in Cloud’s Nibelheim flashback. He blamed this on me mishandling the disc.

It didn’t really matter that I rarely got to play though, because I loved watching Andy play so much. He did manage to do everything there was to do in the game: bred a golden chocobo, got the master materia, and beat both Emerald and Ruby Weapon (Ruby Weapon was a long process of trial and error, and I happened to be out of the room when it happened but I remember Andy’s exuberant jubilation).

There are so many parts of that game that recall certain memories. I loved the music of Cosmo Canyon, I remember watching Andy battle these clowns that draw cards from a deck that have different effects, I remember the first time I saw Andy fight the final boss, Safer Sephiroth, and was stunned to hear that there was actual choral singing, in the music. I was stunned: people were really talking, IN A VIDEO GAME! There were actual voices.

I could probably go on for much longer about watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Suffice it to say, it became everything to me. When I was alone, I played pretend games of FF7 with myself, being Cloud or Sephiroth, turning sticks in the yard into swords and standing in place until my “attack” or “magic” command was selected from an imaginary menu, and then I would rush forward and slash my sword, then jump back into place to wait for my next turn. I also played the opponents usually too. I know it’s a common sight to see a little boy holding a stick and pretending it’s a sword, jumping around and swinging the stick through the air shouting like he’s fighting monsters, but it must have been a strange sight to see a little boy standing in place, assuming a battle pose, waiting for a command that came from himself, then rushing forward to slash and jumping back into place to wait for the next command.

Andy was playing Final Fantasy VII, fighting the red dragon in the Temple of the Ancients, on the day that my mom called me into the kitchen and, along with her aunt who was there, told me that I was going to be staying at a mental health center in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation that my therapist had recommended, and that she couldn’t come with me and I’d have to sleep there and be away from my family. I was terrified buy they gave me a teddy bear, and I made everyone hug the teddy bear several times, so that if I got lonely, I could ask my teddy bear for a hug from Andy, or from Mommy, or from one of my cousins, and he would relay the hug to me.

It’s sad, I know. The experience at the mental health center (which was actually just a floor of the hospital) was horrifying, but it’s another story for another time. When I came back, I was anxious to see what I’d missed in Final Fantasy VII.

This is how it started. Final Fantasy became important to me, and changed my life. It made me creative. It inspired everything I did from that moment on. I wanted to create my own fantasy stories, I loved magic and swords, I wanted to make my own stories like Final Fantasy, I wanted to be a video game designer and work for Squaresoft, the company that made Final Fantasy. I read all the video game magazines and loved anything mentioning Final Fantasy. I resented Final Fantasy VIII when it was released because it wasn’t a direct sequel to VII, and how could anything be better than VII? I did eventually come to love every entry in the series, though.

Years later, I started learning to play piano because I wanted to be able to play music from video games. The music from Final Fantasy VII, from Sonic the Hedgehog, from Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is it’s own story. I went absolutely nuts when I found out Cloud was in the game, and he had a voice. I could HEAR Cloud’s voice. My brother played a mean prank on me once, by pretending that he was actually Cloud, that he’d traveled to another world, and that he could morph between my brother and Cloud. I completely, legitimately believed him. I was heartbroken when he revealed to me that it was a lie, and cried my eyes out. Incidentally, he also pretended to morph into several other Final Fantasy VII characters. It’s a pretty funny story. Apart from me being heartbroken, anyway.

I printed out the sheet music to the Final Fantasy VII battle theme and put it in front of my chorus teacher, asking if he could play it on piano. He did. It was the first time I’d heard Final Fantasy music played on a real instrument, not coming through the speakers of a television, and not in the form of those wonderful MIDI sounds that I loved so much, but here on a real instrument. It was a different sound, but it was magic. I was hooked from that moment. I had to learn to play this song.

And really, that’s how it all started. I started trying to write my first novel when I was twelve, and it was a story heavily influenced by Final Fantasy. I started learning to play piano because I wanted to play music from video games. To this day, I’m still playing Final Fantasy, and I’ve never stopped playing the games from the 90’s either (although admittedly I rarely play Final Fantasy VII anymore, it’s a bit boring to me now and I don’t find the battle system as fun or engaging as others in the series).

My story with video games continues from here, but I’ll stop there for now. There were other games that had a big impact on me, other games that helped me create beautiful memories, and there are plenty more memories associated with Final Fantasy VII and it’s profound effect on me. When I started experiencing depression and became reclusive and afraid, I hid inside the world of Final Fantasy VII. At one point I even believed Cloud was real, and I begged that he would come and rescue me from this world and take me to his. Final Fantasy gave me a safe place, a place that made sense to me, a place where the things I loved were, where I was special and cared about and had magical abilities, and could do the things I wanted.

I never stopped believing in that world. I don’t believe it’s real anymore, but when I was a teenager I had an ardent wish. There’s an area in Final Fantasy VII, an area outside Nibelheim, where the green land drops off in a cliff and the ocean stretches out. I know that in the game, it looks like a bunch of polygons and textures. But it didn’t look that way to me. It looked like real green grass on a real rocky surface, overlooking a real, beautiful sparkling blue ocean, lit by the sun, with the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII playing in the background behind it.

And one day, when I was fourteen, standing outside in the cold morning and waiting for my bus to come and take me to school, I hoped that Heaven would be that place. That when I died, I’d go to a personal Heaven, where I could finally live in the world of Final Fantasy VII. Even now, the memory of that wish still lives in my heart, though now I’m ostensibly an atheist so I don’t know if I believe in anything after death, or in real transcendance anymore. But it didn’t matter then. All that mattered was that I loved this world, and that I found beauty and joy and happiness and safety and security there.

Final Fantasy VII gave me hope, and it still does. During a difficult childhood, it gave me something that made sense, something to love. And the thing is, it’s not like I just started developing a fondness for it out of a need to cope (although I completely believe that’s probably what happened), it’s that I fell in love with it INSTANTLY. I was hooked from that first day. I was spellbound by the characters, by the places, by the music.

And I’ve never stopped loving Final Fantasy, or fantasy itself. And right now, a fantasy story lives in my heart, a story with my own characters and my own places, all of whom borrow concepts and ideas from Final Fantasy, but which are mine. I don’t have to be ashamed to take from Final Fantasy because all art draws from all other art. I try not to outright copy the series, but in my mind I always see a future critic of my novel that hasn’t even been written, saying that it’s a blatant copy of Final Fantasy. But I know that my vision, even if it borrows heavily from Final Fantasy, is unique, and that it will become clearer the more I write, the more I try, and the more I explore. As time has gone on I’ve drawn inspiration from many more sources than just Final Fantasy, and I will continue to do so.

But Final Fantasy will always be special to me. It will always be that safe place, that place of numbers and menus and RPG mechanics that gave me something to focus on when I was feeling scared as a teenager and gave my time structure, that place of beautiful music and scenery and adventure that captivated me as a child and made me want to explore the fantasy realms in my mind, the place that I started writing fanfiction about as a teenager, creating my own stories with these characters, borrowing them and placing them in a world where I coexisted, creating my stories out of thin air as I danced barefoot through the wet grass in the morning, slashing a stick through the air, and adventuring with Cloud and the other Final Fantasy characters.

Fairy Tale: Prologue

A bellowing screech blasted into the night, slicing the cold air, the sound rattling the tiles on the rooftops.

Crackling fire. The beating of enormous leathery wings. A green silhouette against the drop of the night sky, a bright white moon shining blue light down on flames of green that ate away at the wood, the iron, the cobbled streets. Fire in every corner.

Screams, frantic and bewildered. Confusion and the blurry fog of tears in the eyes of men and women, clutching their children, their animals, their clothing, anything they could hold while running.

A little girl, ragged breath sucked frantically into her chest, her beating heart pounding in her head, her vision a haze of madness, stumbled gracelessly into the street, tripping over her dress, and as she reached down to pluck a dangling ribbon from beneath her slipper, the sound came again.

A sound like steel twisting against itself, ripping the air to shreds, and a gust of heat blasted over the rooftops, rattling the trees and knocking over the carts. Food strewn about the street was flung up into the air from the force of it, in all corners there were flames, green flames eating the doorways, the signs, the merchant carts. Flowers crackled with green fire in the street.

The little girl tumbled forward from the blast. She landed flat on her stomach and her nose smacked hard against the cobbled street. She was vaguely aware that there was pain in her head somewhere, and her vision was now tinged with red. She fell helplessly onto her back and looked up into the sky.

Green embers over green flames, against a black sky, somewhere beyond the veil of smoke there were stars still shining thoughtlessly through.

She hoisted herself up onto her elbows and drew a breath that she could not quite hear, because all sound was now a hazy din, a high-pitched ringing somewhere inside her head. She looked up ahead, she could hear screaming in all directions, yet she saw only the empty street, its contents turned in on itself, lanterns and silk streamers and placards piled on fruit and toys. The ghastly accoutrements of festivity tossed lazily into a swarm of nightmarish fever.

There was a figure against the sky, green as the flames. It was not quite solid, and yet it was corporeal. Glowing lights where a face might be, the shape of wings unfurled, and the body a mass of green flame. Beneath the two lights, the flaming shape of jagged teeth as a jaw opened, and the bellowing screech came again, accompanied by a river of flame in all shades of green, ribbons of emerald searing across the wind.

She held up a hand instinctively to shield herself.

Flames ripped across the rooftops and into every quarter of the city. In the distance a castle was burning, green fire rising from the windows. Emerald smoke hovered in a humid vapor above the city. A trail of green fire burned down the central path of the city, and struck out at an odd angle, where it led into a square of burning trees.

Surrounded by flames, a man in dark armor held a child close against his breast, blood spilling across the metal plate and over his fingers, blood drenching the child’s back and his cotton shirt.

The king wept into his son’s neck, cradling the unconscious boy.

A woman’s voice shouted over the roaring inferno, “It must be done! He has brought the demon with him, it will not cede until he is dead!”

“Woman!” croaked the man, “You speak of your son!”

“My son has been consumed by a devil!” she wailed. The flames cast a flickering shadow onto the stones, that of a slender woman in a thin gown, tangled hair, thin fingers clutching the handle of a long knife.

The king lay the boy down on the stones. His eyes were still wide, though he saw nothing. His chest rose so gently it may not have moved at all.

The king’s eyes narrowed as he drew the sword from his side. He advanced upon her and there was a shriek, and the sound of flesh being pierced. The flickering shadows showed a woman run through with a sword, and a thin arm curving around to stab a knife into the man’s back. A guttural moan as they both fell.

The little boy’s eyes were bright blue, and his gaze held nothing at all, his thoughts somewhere far away from the heat and the fear. Blood pooled around his body, his arm flung to the side and his fingers twitching as if to grasp something that was not there.

There was a clicking of boots, the slow steps of one solitary figure, a mass of black cloak and long dark hair against the bright green of the fire. A man knelt down by the boy, his unkempt hair dangling over his eyes.

“Little prince,” he whispered, “Life has more for you yet than this.”

The man’s gloved hands scooped the boy up in one fluid motion, and his cloak whipped behind him as he walked directly into the green flame, and through it.

Green sparks fell over the dying bodies of the husband and wife who lay gasping on the stones. Green sparks whirled up into the night sky.

There was silence, but for crackling fire and a thunderous, croaking growl.

Though the spread of the fire was too quick to have begun in one place and spread outward, and though several credible sources cite eyewitness accounts of a dragon in the city on the night of the fire, there is still endless debate about what exactly caused the devastation. All that can be known for certain is that the city was almost entirely set alight within a matter of minutes, and in several places at once, as though fire were poured out of the firmament onto the city. Since there is no true record of any dragons existing outside of folklore, and since the same eyewitness accounts who credit a dragon for the destruction also claim that it seemed to vanish instantaneously, there will likely never be any solid understanding of how the great fire happened.

Equally unqualifiable are the narratives of a demon-possessed prince setting fire to the castle. Though the Church has certainly spread this account of events, indeed the belief in possession by a demon led to the religious fervor that resulted in the church stepping in to help rebuild the city, and subsequently take a hand in its governance, there is still little evidence to support any of the myriad claims of sinister thaumaturgy.

What is known for certain is that the history of Alexandria was inexorably altered by the devastation of the experience. Faith in the royal family dissipated entirely, so much so that though the line continued, no member of the royal family since has had any hand in the rule of the nation. Though a theocracy was proposed by the church, the citizenry ultimately adopted governance by council, albeit with ecclesiastical inclination: the majority of Alexandria’s council members have been clergymen or at least professed spiritualists, and several seats on the council are usually filled by representatives of the Church itself.

Folklore about the event persists to this day: mothers whisper to naughty children that the green dragon may come take them away in the night if they don’t mind their elders, and a fervent fear of possession endures in modern religious congregations.

Whether by dragon, by devil, or by human design, the proud nation of Alexandria, once famed for its ceaseless conquer of more than half of the surrounding continent, was dissolved into several regions that became their own governments following the destruction of the capital city, and though a new Alexandria rose in place of the old, the era of a kingdom fully united beneath a single banner faded into the annals of history, and for better or worse the  flames of destruction cultivated the land afresh and history gave over to a new age.

Fairy Files: The Genealogy Of Lucas Ballanheim

Originally, Lucas' physically appearance was based on Isaac from Golden Sun. As of now his exact appearance is a little up in the air, but he still wears a scarf, though it's more reminiscent of Lightning's clipped-on side scarf from Final Fantasy XIII

Originally, Lucas’ physically appearance was based on Isaac from Golden Sun. As of now his exact appearance is a little up in the air, but he still wears a scarf, though it’s more reminiscent of Lightning’s clipped-on side scarf from Final Fantasy XIII

Fairy Files is an attempt for me to get down in one place all of the ideas for my novel. It isn’t an official guide, or a companion that would be accurate to the final book, since the book is still to be finished. The novel itself, called at different times Fairy Tale, The Fairy’s Awakening, or having no title at all, has undergone so many changes that not all incarnations of the story were lasting or best for the story, but I want them to be recorded for my own memory as much as anything else.

Lucas Ballanheim has been the central character of this story from the beginning. The entire story began when I was watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and was really fascinated by the character of Hohenheim. I really love it when a character is so superior in magical ability that they can create earthquakes standing in place or do other incredible feats with their vast unseen reserves of magical power. I started to think about a young character who would have similar power to Hohenheim, and initially I called this character Hohenheim, mostly brainstorming about him in the shower. Eventually I decided on a first name of Lucas; I was reading a Star Wars novel called Outcast at the time and I had the sudden realization that obviously George Lucas must have named the character Luke after himself, a fact that I’m sure even the most casual Star Wars fan must have already observed, but one that slipped by me. A lot of really obvious things get past me in life because I’m usually looking for deeper meaning and missing things on the surface; I think this is the reason why I’m often caught by surprise by incredibly inane plot twists that are easily foreseeable and surprise no one else. It’s also what had discouraged me in the past and made me think I’m no good at coming up with plot twists, I think as I’ve grown I’ve learned that the way I twist a plot is more subtle and detailed, so there aren’t as many huge reveals, or at least I don’t know that there will be.

Lucas Hohenheim was initially my main character, and I had given him a best friend named Hephaestion and set him in a kingdom called Alexandria as the prince. I chose the name Alexandria because of my inspiration with the city of Alexandria in Final Fantasy IX, and of course that fictional city is named after the real city of Alexandria set up in the real world by the conqueror Alexander the Great. When I was a teenager I remember my brother watching the movie Alexander, and I was really interested in a character named Hephaestion played by Jared Leto who had been Alexander’s best friend from childhood and was also his lover. I was even more interested to learn that this is in fact based in history, and that there is a lot of evidence that the real Alexander was indeed Hephaestion’s lover, so I wanted to have a parallel there in my story. I like to try and recognize gay romance when it occurs in history in places you don’t expect it: apart from Alexander and Hephaestion, my other favorite historical romance is King David (yes, that King David, the one from the Bible) and his lover Jonathan, whose sex scene is all but spelled out in the Bible itself, but Biblical scholars trip over themselves trying to explain it away as a close friendship. And this dealing with a character as notoriously romantic and sexual as David.

Anyhow, I had very little in the beginning apart from some names and some ideas. I knew that Hephaestion (for the first couple of years I erroneously spelled his name “Hephaestian,” and then kept it that way for a while after discovering the correct spelling, before finally converting) was Lucas’ romantic interest, and I had a vague concept of the two being joined by a forest goddess in a kind of faux-wedding ceremony bonding a guardian (Hephaestion) and his charge (Lucas). At this early point in the story not much else was concrete, and I had to mull over a lot of ideas before the plot came even a little bit into focus.

Eventually I decided that it would be too obviously derivative to keep Lucas’ last name Hohenheim, so I modified it to Ballanheim, which is what is has remained. In various versions of the story, Ballanheim is either not his true name or a name he’s adopted, but that’s the name that’s stuck with him. Often I get ideas for characters based on small details: Bronwen’s entire character seemed to be formed around her name and then around the idea of a red coat similar to the Red Mage outfit from Final Fantasy, Lucas was inspired by the name Hohenheim and it’s connections to the magical abilities of the alchemist from which I borrowed the name, Imogen’s entire inclusion in the story at all came from the fact that when I briefly tried to write the story using RPG Maker, I liked the character sprite of a witch, and so I made her a party member. Small details end up creating complex characters. Hephaestion’s entire identity was simply based on the fact that I wanted Lucas to have a gay relationship with a naming parallel to the Alexander and Hephaestion of history.

In one early concept scene, I attempted to switch the focus of the story to another character named Oliver. Oliver comes from an entirely separate story centered around vampire mythology that I began when I seventeen, and the original version of which is now lost. I also tried to combine Lucas’ story (at some times called Fairy Tale or The Fairy’s Awakening) with yet another story I never really finished called Jared and Cornelia, and early concept scenes show these connections as well. At one point Lucas was going to be a member of the main cast with Oliver at the center of the story as a human dealing with mages, vampires, and gods. This idea never really continued after the initial scene I wrote with Oliver speaking to Lucifer in the underworld (in fact I barely remembered the scene at all and had to go back and check to see just who the narrator of the scene was, I’d forgotten it was Oliver and assumed it was an unnamed protagonist).

I can’t say exactly how Lucas evolved at exactly when, but eventually I wrote the first version of my opening scene, which has been re-written several times. I wrote it by hand in a notebook and I don’t actually know what happened to that notebook but I’m hoping I still have it somewhere. The scene primarily consisted of Lucas standing, naked in front of a mirror, in his own room while he telekenetically whirled flames around the room and around himself. I got the idea for him closing his eyes and reaching out with “mind fingers” to grab the flames from reading Anne Rice’s depiction of how Akasha and other vampires in her story used an almost physical extension of their mind to set other vampires aflame. I remember it being important to me that Lucas was naked in that opening scene because I wanted to describe him in intimate detail: the light blonde hair covering his stomach, his penis and his testicles, his thighs and of course most importantly his face, the eye and hair color associated with which have been changed a hundred times and even now I’m not sure what exactly Lucas looks like. He probably has dirty blonde hair and blue or green eyes (they can’t be brown because one of Hephaestion’s defining characteristics is that he has brown eyes to match his curly greek-style chestnut hair). As for his reason for being naked, it’s because I like to describe things that I don’t often see described in other books, things that make scenes feel more realistic: you don’t ever really read about a character idly scratching their nose for absolutely no reason relevant to the plot, or pulling their undergarments out of their but, or masturbating just because they wanted to masturbate and not to drive a specific romance. I’m drawn to the idea of a naked and beautiful prince in front of a mirror more than I am of a clothed prince, so that’s what I went with.

I knew from the beginning Lucas was a prince, but a comment early on from someone pointing out that a blonde-haired blue eyed prince with magic powers seemed incredibly cliche, and that comment has stuck with me and always bothered me a bit because it’s absolutely true, but if I alter something about Lucas I want it to be because it’s true to his character, not just because I was following a (valid) criticism. He’s remained royal in some fashion or another, and only incredibly recently (within the last two days) did I consider changing his status to that of a governor’s son. It’s important that he be wealthy and a little spoiled because that’s an important part of his character; he has to survive in a wild and untamed world without the comfort he’s accustomed to, and he has to be continually surprised by the new places and people he discovers, so that I and the reader can continue to be surprised.

Lucas parentage has been pretty consistent. I knew that my villain was going to be a character whose name I still haven’t exactly pinpointed, but he started as Braeg Ballanehim, then became Elliot Varner, and sometimes a reversal of Varner Elliot. I still haven’t decided what his name should be but for the most part I refer to him as Varner. Varner is some kind of important figure, the de facto leader of Alexandria, because the royal family has no power. He’s also Lucas’ abusive father, but this fact is concealed from everyone with few exceptions: Hephaestion is the only person Lucas has ever told, and if Varner knew he would probably have Hephaestion silenced in some way or at least threaten him to keep him quiet. Lucas is the prince, but there is no king and queen. Why this hasn’t made Lucas king, when he’s been of young adult age for the entirety of his character’s development, I couldn’t tell you. He’s just the prince. His mother died in childbirth and his presumed father the king has died in a number of ways and never been important to the story, because his real father is Varner.

In the version of Varner’s story that I like best, he was a councilman for Alexandria who began an illicit affair with the queen, whose name I’ve never decided on. The queen had never produced an heir for the king, and as these things go it was of course assumed that she was barren, when in fact there were complications with her own body as well as the kings, she had become pregnant once before but lost the child quickly, and had never conceived since. She also didn’t have sex with the king often because she wasn’t particularly interested in him and only consented to it when he made an advance on her. The queen has always been a good-hearted character, though I imagine her marriage to the king was done without her consent and she’s lived a troubled life because of it. She and Varner began an affair and she became pregnant with his child, which delighted her and quickly became news, everyone assuming that she and the king would finally have a son. Varner, though at this point not quite the angry psycopath he would later become, was unhappy with this turn of events for a few reasons: first, because he had great plans in mind for Alexandria and hadn’t though about bringing a child into the world before but would be completely against it if he had not already transformed Alexandria into the vision he had for it; second, because he did not want his child being assumed to be the son of the king, a man he loathed. Though he felt guilty about it, he convinced himself that the most prudent course of action was to terminate the pregnancy, but didn’t want to directly hurt the queen in the process, so he sought out a potion from a witch that would kill an unborn child.

As it happens, the witch who gave him this potion would turn out to be the adopted mother of Imogen (a character later to become one of the main cast but at this point not yet born), an old woman alternately named Phoebe or Samantha, and she agreed to his request without much disapproval. Varner slips her the potion and to his surprise it has exactly the reverse effect on her: the queen is invigorated by the potion and the baby is more healthy than ever. The queen also exhibits some slight magical ability, such as making flowers bloom or bringing life to things she touches. She may also have exhibited the fabled White Magic (or healing, life-giving magic), which is something that will be important elsewhere in the story, but which I’m going to assume parents of mages can perform a limited amount of while growing the life of a magical child within them. Furious, Varner goes back to the witch, and after threatening her he learns from her that the only way the potion could have failed would have been if the child itself was magical being, capable of absorbing the magic within the potion that would ordinarily have killed the child. Not knowing about the history of a group known as the mages, Varner assumes the child is a descendant of witches, and though it’s within Phoebe’s power to make a potion that can kill an unborn witch, she at first refuses, but relents when Varner threatens to kill the children she watches over in her secluded home in the forest. Phoebe weeps when giving him the potion, confessing that for a witch to kill another witch, especially an unborn, is a sin of the highest order, and he mocks her hypocrisy by pointing out that she had no problem giving him a potion to kill an ordinary unborn child with no inherent magic. Phoebe attempts to dissaude Varner from using the potion by reading his future against his will, seeing that his child is a son who will become a great leader one day.

Varner feels conflicted about slipping the queen the potion. He was unsure of himself the first time, but this time, upon seeing the effect of the last potion, and wondering exactly how this new one might affect the queen herself, as well as learning a few details about his unborn child, he can’t help but feel love for the baby and doesn’t want to kill it. He steels himself, believing it’s his duty not to bring a child into the world as it is now, and gives the queen the potion. Rather than killing the child, it causes her to go into labor with the child early, and Varner hides himself in a wardrobe in the queen’s chamber as he witnesses the birth of his son. The queen begins slipping away during the birth and her handmaids go to bring a physician, but Varner bars the door and prevents entrance to her room, going over to the bed and speaking with her before she dies. She smiles and asks Varner to take care of their son. He attempts to confess his actions to her but is too late even to tell her he loves her, and she dies. Heartbroken and enraged, Varner slips out the window as guards and physicians break into the queen’s room. A wake is held that night for the queen, and afterward Varner sneaked into the king’s chamber and murders him, refusing to allow the king to raise Varner’s child.

Varner soon after meets the baby for the first time, and witnesses the child exhibiting faint magical ability. Feeling conflicted over his love for the child, he considers the baby to be the cause of the death of the woman he loves as well as a forestalling of his own plans to become ruler of Alexandria. Conflicted by a mixture of innate love for the child, his grief over losing the queen and his further love of the child for being all he has left of her, an anger at the child for ending it’s mothers life, and ultimately profound anger at himself for bringing the whole situation to pass, Varner offers to adopt the child in his capacity as a councilman and the offer is seen as generous and selfless, so it’s allowed. The prince remains living in the castle but Varner is to be his surrogate father (though he is of course the child’s actual father). He is allowed to name the baby and gives him the name Lucas, and begins to hate the boy as a means of covering up his own guilt. Lucas is given the last name of Ballanheim, the name of the fallen king.

more to come…

Naked

1034

“My heart is a chamber of darkness
My voice echoes in fear
I have lost all hope but still I call you
Hear me and grant me reprieve
Summon me from the night
Give me life.”

Chapter 1

He was naked.

His hair was a bright auburn that tinged itself with blonde, his eyes were a milky swirl of silver and blue. His body was lean and unintimidating, dusted with fine blonde hair across his belly and his legs and between them in a concentration above his groin. His face was something like handsome, though there was an emptiness behind his eyes. He stared forward but he didn’t seem to exist at all.

It wasn’t me.

This person was not the embodiment of the voice in my mind, this person was not my soul personified. But it was my body. And it stared back at me from a reflection in glass, like a stranger meeting my gaze. I didn’t entirely believe the reflection, I was sure that I’d still never seen my own eyes.

Dim light at the edges of my vision swirled about behind the figure in the mirror. Fire was moving through the air. I could feel it prickling the inside my head, I could feel it breathing. Fire, individual flames moving through the air in a rhythmic dance, slowly, breathing, breathing, breathing.

I closed my eyes. I almost imagined there were lights dancing in the darkness of my eyelids. I could feel the light from each flame as it danced along the air in a current that swirled around my body. I reached out with some kind of limb I didn’t understand and snatched the flames from candles that were placed in a circle on the floor around me. Come up, join the others. I pulled the flames from the wicks and they kept burning. They kept breathing. The little flames joined the larger ones in the silent song the fire sang, and they grew, breathing, hotter, and hotter.

Footsteps clicked in the hallway.

The flames whisped out, not one by one, not unanimously, some dying faster, but they all fell into sparks and died in the air.

The door to my bedroom was opened.

“Good afternoon, Lord,” said a friendly and companionable voice. Trust him not to knock before he enters. “I’d advise against standing about in the darkness without any clothes on, it’s unbecoming of royalty.”

The young man to whom the voice belonged strolled easily past me and pulled open two huge, thick velvet drapes, and sunlight burst hungrily across the floor and onto every surface of my room, and flooded my eyes, so that I saw a glimpse of the boy of with the light brown hair illuminated so brightly he seemed to change, and just as my eyes closed I could almost swear I saw someone else in his place, but I couldn’t place it, and my eyes were stinging, and the thought was lost.

“Honestly, you’d think you might remember you have a schedule,” said the young man impatiently, ruffling the drapes and smoothing them before turning and marching across the room to shut my door behind himself. “I leave you alone for one morning and you start having séances in the middle of the afternoon.”

I sighed and shook my head, “Eric, you know I can’t handle doing anything royal without you,” I said.

“That’s all very well,” he replied in a tone of trained annoyance that bordered between that of a disrespectful child and an overbearing mother, while strolling over to the drapes and unlocking the window latch, “But I’ve been your attache for two years and you’ve still to learn a thing about acting like an adult.” He whipped the window open and a chill that was not the breath of winter but not quite the sigh of spring whistled in and caught my bare legs, causing me to shiver and cross my arms in something like embarrassment.

Eric was already flinging open my wardrobe and grabbing undergarments, tossing them lazily on the bed behind him, though they landed in perfect order. I glanced below myself at the ring of burned out candles. The wicks weren’t black, still white. The fire had barely touched them. I wondered for a moment what Eric thought I was doing, he was too smart not to guess something.

But then, you don’t often guess that your master can wield fire with his mind. And if you do guess it, you probably don’t ask questions.

I sauntered over to my bed, which Eric suddenly noticed was completely unmade and almost rolled his eyes as he went to tuck the duvet back into the corners of the mattress. “One day you will learn to be something like self-sufficient,” he said in that same parental tone.

I realized that I was chuckling softly, standing there naked and looking like a fool, while Eric ran around behind me cleaning up my messes. He’d already managed to lay out my day’s attire on the bed and swept behind me to grab the candles from the floor. “But I can always rely on you, can’t I?” I asked.

“For a time,” said Eric, setting the candles down quickly and in neat order on a dressing table in the corner that I scarcely used for anything, “But you’re nineteen years old and you may be royalty, but you should still learn to take care of yourself. What will you do when I’m not around?”

“You’ll always be around,” I said defensively, grabbing a pair of short cotton briefs and slipping them up my legs.

“I wasn’t around until a couple of years ago,” he replied, “When the Chancellor appointed you a much smaller contingent of factotums,” Eric was already pulling a silk shirt over my head while he spoke, and I abliged him like a child who resented the act of being dressed, “Now I need you to try and act something near stately today, and tonight when we’re done with business you can pull off your dress clothes and roll around on the floor like a stubborn child.”

I giggled. I enjoyed Eric’s admonishment, because it was playful. He was incredibly skilled at his duty, he was loyal and trustworthy, and life had been a little easier to understand since he’s come into my life. His fingers worked at the buttons of a jacket he’d pulled onto me, and he clipped a green silk scarf onto the neck to trail behind me. “Do you have to add the scarf?” I asked.

“The accouterments of rank, lord,” he said kindly, “You’ll learn to live with it, one way or another.”

“You really do dote on me,” I said.

“And you dance upon my nerves, little princeling,” he said, “But I am older than you and you know to listen to your elders.”

“You are exactly seven years older than me, and as I see it you’re barely an adult yourself,” I replied.

He leaned in close to me and raised his eyebrows. “I set out my own undergarments in the morning, my lord,” he whispered, and he winked.

As breeches were hoisted upon my waist and a pair of stately black shining boots buckled and strapped at my feet, I stared back out the wide window that opened almost from floor to the grand tall ceiling of this vast chamber where I lived most of my time. I thought for a moment I could almost see something out there in the vast cloudless sky, like a small bird or maybe a large fairy tale pixie, but whatever I thought must have swam into the light of the sun because my eyes were stinging again and I looked away.

“Do try and behave yourself, Lord,” said Eric in a tone that sounded nervous, “And remember to rise when they say your full name and title.”

I rolled my eyes and announced it in a mock ceremonial voice, “Noble Heir to the Throne of Alexandria, fourteenth in the line of royalty since His Eminence King Hamlet, prince Lucas Ballanehim.”

“You’re the FIFTEENTH of the line since King Hamlet, Lord,” corrected Eric.

“Well I never met my father,” I said with an arrogant swivel of my head.

“And neither did I,” replied Eric, adjusting the belt about my waist and buckling it, “But I still know to stand when my name is called, and keep my mouth shut when appropriate. Learn from me.”

“Are you afraid I’ll get myself in trouble?” I asked

“I’m afraid you’ll get us all in trouble,” Eric said, and he almost yanked me forward and toward the door, “The conclave begins in less than an hour, so please, for me, practice being quiet while there’s still time.”