Fearies Awakening #5: Moonlight

(Special Request! I know that there are a few loyal followers who like my posts whenever I post something, and every post usually gets some attention from a few people. I’m not sure how many people actually take the time to read these blog posts, but I’m going to make a special request of you guys. If you take the time to read this, please take the time to comment, even if it’s something short and to the point.A long time ago, I read a post on someone’s blog that said said that if you’ve invested the time out of your day to read what someone has written, please also invest just one more moment to let them know what you thought of it. I almost never get comments on my blog and it means the world to me when people do comment, so please, if you like what you’re reading, leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks guys, enjoy!)

 

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So I ran across a bit of a stumbling block with my last entry in chapter one. I was watching an Australian romantic comedy series called Please Like Me, and the energy of humorously awkward romance bled into my writing and it completely didn’t fit within the story. At least not at this moment in the story. I realized very quickly that I needed to take another stab at this chapter, and I’m really happy that I did. When I first wrote it, in addition to the tonal problem, I also ran across a real problem of getting my characters from one point to another: I wanted to talk about the library, but first I had to get them to the castle gate, then through the corridors leading to the library. But I don’t actually know much about the castle layout.

So how did I solve this problem? I did what I always do, I started in the middle. This picks up in the first draft right after Hephaestion tells Lucas to lead the way out of the town square, and begins inside the old library in the castle. I may come back later to flesh out how they got there, or since it isn’t terribly important, I may leave it the way it is.

Another big problem I’ve had is that some very important storyline things are about to happen right here in this library, and I have been very intimidated. My goblin is about to make his grand appearance to my protagonist, and things are going to begin being set in motion that will actually cause the events of the plot to begin to unfold. That is, surprisingly, a very daunting thing to write. I’ve spoken the scene aloud several times to myself in the shower or in other places, but I needed to get Lucas and Hephaestion into the library to make it happen.

Also, this is a note about editing, but I’m not really sure how important of a role Rex and Eric will play in the story. Because I’ve been so interested in Lord of the Rings lately, I had thought about making Rex and Eric a part of the main cast, at least in the beginning, to journey with Lucas, but I’m also considering leaving them out entirely. Rex was a spur of the moment character I invented to get Lucas to Hephaestion, and Eric is a redesign of an older character from the conceptual material. Still, I can’t say how any of this will go from here, but I’m asking you to disregard the last version of the library as no longer canon, and take this one as the truth instead. I know that editing and redrafting is something that typically happens later, but I was unable to move on with the story from where I left it before.

The preamble is a bit longer this time, but I’m happy to continue the story for you now.

Moonlight fell in blue shafts from the high, long windows of the old library, and in the illumination, the dust of a long-forgotten place danced and swirled. Lucas stood leaning on the railing that overlooked the floor beneath, where more high windows cast moonlight over the long tables beneath, covered in books that lay half open, as though they were abandoned in haste. Chairs were still pulled out and scattered among the floor, and on all sides of the room were the rows and rows of high, tall wooden shelves, filled with books whose spines stood strong and quiet in the desolate place.

The library was a part of the royal wing, and like the rest of the royal wing of the castle it had fallen into disuse and, eventually, abandoned almost entirely. Across the many shelves were gaping holes where books had been taken to be moved to the scholar’s library on the other side of the castle, where work was still done, and no doubt the lamps still burned as the night came on in full. Lucas found himself hypnotized by the site of old library, standing like a ruin in the quiet moonlight. A set of wooden stairs that had once gleamed with polish and now covered with a fine layer of dust led up to the landing where he stood, and behind him were even more rows of bookshelves, and shelves built into the walls, reaching higher than anyone could stand, and so there were ladders placed haphazardly around the area, where the scholars had cleaned out anything of particular interest long ago.

It had been ten years since Lucas had visited this place, and even in this dark state, where no lanterns burned in any corner, only moonlight and shadow, it still held it’s charm. Lucas smiled to himself and he turned around. He walked through a darkened aisle where nothing could be made out on the spines of the books, and then stopped at a shelf where the moonlight fell, and he ran his forefinger along the dusty spines.

Old leather-bound volumes with faint traces of color that had long since been worn away adorned the spaces that weren’t left empty, and he grabbed one at random to examine it, pulling it out, and in the illumination of moonlight seeing a cloud of dust erupt from it’s vacant space. The old spine gave a loud creak as he opened the book to the center and ran a hand across it’s yellowed pages. In the moonlight he could make out some of the text, but it seemed uninteresting: an old history book, and it was recounting a battle of Alexandria. Since it didn’t refer to the city as New Alexandria, it must have been outdated, and supplanted with more reliable information, so this old volume was left. He slipped it back into it’s place on the bookshelf, noticing that the two books on either side of the vacant space hadn’t budged at all, so used to sitting still and silent were they.

He explored his way through several more aisles, pausing to run his fingers along the dusty spines, but from the titles saw nothing that sparked his interest. Nothing fictional, no tales of adventures, no chronicles of great heroes. Mostly books about Alexandrian history and law. He saw littered against the stone columns scattered through the library glass cases under which terribly old volumes sat, their pages opened, the ink faded. He stopped in front of one, a shaft of blue light cast on it, and he peered down to see a crude drawing of a wolf, and some text beside it giving it a name. He wasn’t sure if this was a mythological story of an actual account of a hunter fighting a ravenous beast. It was still too difficult to make out much more than a few words.

Lucas heard a cork pop and it startled him, he turned quickly to see Hephaestion sitting against the far stone wall, just beneath a window and covered in moonlight himself. He had opened the bottle of brown liquid that he’d carried within his satchel. Lucas held the empty satchel over his shoulder, hoping that he would find something in the library worth bringing home, but so far nothing had spoken to him. He made his way over to Hephaestion and folded his arms with a look of false disapproval.

“Cadet,” said Lucas in a tone of mock authority, “Sitting about on the floor after hours in a restricted area, drinking pilfered liquor. What are we to make of you?”

Hephaestion grinned and turned the bottle up, taking one hardy swig before coughing and pressing his fist to his chest. Lucas raised his eyebrows. Hephaestion wiped his mouth and looked up, then croaked out, “Pretty good stuff.”

“Really?” asked Lucas in genuine curiosity, sitting down on the floor in front of Hephaestion, who handed him the bottle.

“No,” replied Hephaestion and cleared his throat, “Tastes like fried piss. But I think it’s supposed to.”

Lucas looked down at the bottle. Clear and a little dusty, with some words written across the front in ornate calligraphy that he couldn’t quite read in the dim light. He’d never really liked alcohol, though he’d drank wine at official dinners, and had been told by his father that to refuse the wine was an insult to the staff. He enjoyed the bitter red wine more than the sweet white wine, and he assumed from the sickening smell of this liquid that it would be bitter. He exhaled and bravely took a drink, upending the bottle the same way Hephaestion had, instantly choking, and then setting the bottle down and coughing, some of the liquid escaping from his lips as he did so. It burned his throat and seemed to remain hot as it settled somewhere in his chest.

“That is disgusting,” croaked Lucas.

Hephaestion nodded matter-of-factly. “Indeed, but I think that’s the idea.”

“Why would people knowing drink this?” asked Lucas, although he didn’t have to have an answer because even after one drink he could already feel his head swimming.

Lucas got up and walked over to the wall beside Hephaestion, who took another, more cautious drink, and kept it down this time. Lucas slid down the wall to sit beside Hephaestion, and the two passed the bottle between one another, drinking quietly.

“You know,” said Lucas after a few minutes, feeling suddenly very conversational, “There really is a magic to this old place, but the books don’t seem terribly interesting.”

Hephaestion finished a drink and shrugged, “I don’t really like reading all that much.”

Lucas felt a little puzzled, “Why not?” he asked, “Don’t you want to learn about things you didn’t know before?”
Hephaestion nodded, “Absolutely,” he said, “But I prefer to hear it from people older and wiser than me, I like to hear it spoken. I don’t mind learning about history and philosophy and even theology, I just don’t want to read it. Seems like when I read it, I’m left to sort out what it all means, but when a professor or a tutor explains it, they know how to make sense of it.”

“You just need practice making sense of things,” said Lucas, and realized his words were slurring a little.

“Do you think,” said Hephaestion, “Your father is going to be angry with you for sneaking out?”

Lucas pursed his lips and thought for a moment, then nodded, “Most definitely. I’m probably afraid. I don’t feel afraid, but I’m probably afraid. Unpleasant guy, my father.”

Hephaestion nodded in agreement, “He seems very stern.”

“He is,” replied Lucas, “And cold, and unfeeling, and demanding, and surprisingly boring. He commands respect everywhere he goes, and yet he never has much interesting to say. Always going on about politics and talking about the welfare of other people, but he doesn’t seem to show any interest in the welfare of people around him.”

“You mean you,” suggested Hephaestion.

“I mean me,” affirmed Lucas, “He absolutely could not care less about my interests, but he feels the need to have control over everything I do. I’m nineteen, I want to make my own choices.”

“It sounds nice to me, though,” said Hephaestion, “To have a parent to make rules for you. My only parents are the officers, and they believe in letting people learn things the hard way. If I want to go out in the middle of the night and get myself into trouble, I can do it, and then I can come home with a terrible headache and a black eye, and they just nod and tell me that I learned my lesson.”

“I wish my father were like that,” said Lucas, drinking bravely now, as the bottle was less than halfway full.

“No you don’t,” said Hephaestion with an edge of sadness in his voice, “I never got to know either of my parents, they died when I was so young that I don’t even know if my memories are real or if I’m just imagining them. I have this idea of what my mother probably looked like but I can’t be sure. And my father, I just remember him holding my hand and walking me around town, nothing much else. When they died, I was sent to the academy and raised by the officers.”

Lucas had heard about all of this before but it still saddened him. Even though he wished Hephaestion had had the chance to know his family, he wouldn’t have traded places with him and wished his own father on Hephaestion for anything.

“I don’t remember my mother, obviously,” interjected Lucas, “She died in childbirth. So I’ve truly never had a mother, as long as I’ve been alive. Except maybe for a minute or two. It was just my father and the nannies and tutors.”

Hephaestion snickered, “Nannies.”
“What?” asked Lucas incredulously.

“It sounds so pampered, doesn’ it?” asked Hephaestion, turning to look at Lucas with a smile, “Raised by nannies in a governer’s mansion.”

“It wasn’t our mansion until my father became governer,” said Lucas.

Hephaestion rested a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. Lucas’ pulse quickened but only slightly. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “It isn’t your fault your mother died, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any nannies. I shouldn’t have been so callous.”

Lucas shook his head reassuringly, “It really doesn’t bother me to talk about my mother,” he said, “For all purposes I’ve never had one. And in as much as I’ve had a father, well… he hasn’t done a very good job of being a father.”

Hephaestion turned away from the wall and laid out flat on his back, spreading out on the floor. The light from the window was fully illuminating him. His cotton shirt was coming up just above his waist and the bottom of his stomach was exposed. In the light Lucas saw the light sprinkling of fine brown hair along his lower stomach. He also noticed the small hill in Hephaestion’s trousers between his legs, and had a difficult time looking away, since Hephaestion’s eyes were closed and he didn’t notice. Lucas shifted and then reached between his legs to adjust himself. He took another drink. He was surprised to realize it was the last of the liquor.

Hephaestion sat up suddenly, and looked directly into Lucas’ eyes. The moonlight was illuminating his face perfectly. He looked so young. He was twenty, but he might have fourteen. His auburn hair framed his face in long, bright curls, and his eyes were chestnut, the perfect complement to the color of his hair, deep eyes that always showed so much genuine emotion, framed by thick eyebrows. His skin was an olive tan, his jaw was square and his full lips were in an expression of seriousness that was in no way menacing. His eyes always seemed to be pleading to understand, there was a strength to his taut body and square features, and a gentleness in the way he applied them.

“Do you hate your father?” he asked.

Lucas was a little shocked by the question. “Why would you ask?”

“You’ve told me so many awful things about him,” said Hephaestion, “The few times I’ve spoken with him when I’ve been to your house he’s had little to say, and he does seem very cold. He frightens me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. And I just suddenly realized I’ve never heard you say you love him.”

Lucas thought for a moment. Did he hate his father? His immediate instinct was to affirm that he did hate him, but he wasn’t sure that hate was the right word. “I….” he began hesitantly, “I guess I just don’t really care about him. I don’t… love him. I don’t love him, but I don’t know that I hate him. I don’t care enough to hate him. I just want him to go away.”

Hephaestion looked up into the light from the window and an expression of thoughtfulness crossed his face. Then he asked, “He’s never hurt you, has he?”

Yes. In every possible way.

“Um,” said Lucas, “Well…”

“I mean physically,” added Hephaestion.

Yes.

“I, uh…” began Lucas again.

Hephaestion shook his head, “It’s fine. You don’t have to say anything. Just… I just don’t want to think of him hurting you. You deserve better than that. I want you to be safe.”

Lucas felt a warmth in his chest that came from some source other than the liquor which made his head churn. “Thank you,” he said, unsure of what else to say, “I… thank you.”

Hephaestion laid back down on his back, and spread out his limbs again. Lucas felt suddenly very brave, and he got down to his knees and crawled over, then curled up beside Hephaestion with his back to Hephaestion’s side, and Hephaestion reached down and put an arm under Lucas’ head. He rested his head on Hephaestion’s warm arm, after a few moments feeling the blood pumping a little harder to compensate for Lucas being there.

Neither of them spoke. Lucas felt warmth in his chest. He sighed contentedly. He thought he felt Hephaestion’s chest shake behind him in a slight chuckle. His eyes were heavy, and now that he was horizontal he realized the room was spinning. He shut his eyes, and the spinning stopped being disorienting and became comforting. The floor swam beneath him, and the warmth of Hephaestion’s body seemed to envelop him, and he fell asleep.

Fearies Awakening #4: A Procession Of Virgins

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One of the difficulties of writing a novel is that you can be really excited to write something at a point in the story which you haven’t reached. This is certainly the case with me, and in the past I’ve just written whatever comes, but this time I feel that it’s important to stay with my characters on go on the journey with them. So I find myself needing to hurry up and get to where I want to be without rushing or letting the story suffer.
Writing, or at least the kind of writing that produces a full book, requires discipline, and self-discipline is not something I’ve always excelled at. However, I know from experience that if I just let my ideas sit in my head and never get around to writing them, they’ll lose their magic and their power, and my writing will become stale. There are also days where you just aren’t as good as other days, and you have to keep writing even though you know you’re only operating at about 80% creative power. Today is one of those days. And I had to really push through to keep writing the story. However, I accidentally discovered that there were some really cool aspects of this scene that I hadn’t seen coming. Previously all I had done was write down the majority of the Virgin’s prayer in my notes.
So, the story continues. Because I’m not operating at fully capacity today, I apologize if the text seems a little sloppy, but I’m confident that if I keep pushing myself to write, I’ll stay at the top of my game. And I hope you find today’s installment interesting.
***

They came to the Central Square, which was ironically a very large circle, with a crowd packed in a wide ring around the circle, being held into place by several soldiers in full ceremonial armor. To Lucas’ right, behind the crowd, were the steps leading up to the closed double doors of the Grand Cathedral. Straight ahead, a path led from the circle up the cobblestoned street toward the castle, and as just as Lucas had settled on a spot where he could see through the crowd relatively well, Rex had started pushing his way through the crowd, a hand clasped around Hephaestion’s wrist, who in turn grabbed Eric as he was pulled along, and Lucas was nearly yanked by Eric into the crowd.

Lucas and the others came out at the front, standing at the edge of the ring. Lucas looked ahead toward the road leading to the palace and he could see them.

The sunset had reached it’s apex and the golden light illuminated The Virgins, who were strolling toward the square in two neat single file lines, probably about fourteen in all. They wore long, flowing gowns of fine silk, in pastel colors of robin’s egg blue, canary yellow, pale lavender, and many other colors. No two gowns were alike, and they each wore about their heads fine silk veils, through which their well-kept hair could be seen and their faces could be detected, though the features were always difficult to discern. Lucas had seen this garb before, worn by the Virgin of New Alexandria, who he assumed was among the procession, though even as they approached it was difficult to tell them apart. The hues of their hair could be detected, and the veil was thin around the area where their eyes peered out, and their eyes could be seen well when approached up close, though approaching a Virgin was an honor that had to be bewstowed.
Their flowing gowns gave the appearance that they were actually floating toward the Central Square, rather than walking. As they filed into the wide circle, they poured like flowing water to the edges of the circle, and began to move their arms and legs in a slow dance, and at the very back of the procession, a Virgin much older than the others, in a gown and veil of pure white, strolled to the center of the circle. The crowd recognized her and there were a few hushed whispers: this was the Grand Virgin. She knelt down and placed her hands together in silent prayer, bowing her head.

A hush had fallen over the crowd as the Virgins danced, their long sleeves and billowing gowns fluttering in the breeze as they twirled silently, beneath the silk could be seen the universally white garments beneath, hugging tight to their slim bodies. There was no music, no drum playing, but they all seemed to be moving together to the same rhythm, and silence fell heavier and heavier as the dance continued. The men and women watched spellbound as they danced around the edge of the ring.

And then the Virgin in the center lifted her head and stood, and she faced heavenward and began to speak, in a loud, clear voice that was at once commanding and comforting. It was impossible not to hear her voice as it reverberated off the stone walls of the Central Square.

“Our Father,” she began, “Whose heavenly throne is that of pure light…”

Everyone recognized the invocation as the way in which all prayers to the Father began. She continued, and as she spoke the Virgins began to edge closer to the center of the circle, straying from the edges.

“Our master who sees beneath him the toil and suffering of all creatures. Our protector who loves even the stray child. You have sent forth to do your work the Angel, in your love you have sent a Redeemer. Blessed are those who accept the gift you offer freely.”

The Virgins raised their hands in unison, and their dance took on a supplicant quality. Those there eyes were too far away to be visible, it was easy to imagine them filled with longing tears of mourning for the lost.

“Angel of light,” continued the Virgin, “Our teacher. Show unto us unworthy children the path that the Father might have us walk. Give us courage to follow your light. Give us strength to overcome the trail of sorrows. Give us mercy, that we may be lifted from the Yoke of despair.”

The Virgins circled closer to the Grand Virgin now, and the pace of the dance quickened, their silken sleeves flowing in the air, making it impossible to discern one from the other, only a mass of colors in which they all seemed to be one. The voice of the Grand Virgin began to boom and echo across the Square.

“Give us knowledge to know the Father’s path, to hear the words spoken through his messenger. Divine emissary, have patience with we children of darkness, born in sin and trudging through murky waters.”

The Virgins spun furiously, so quickly that their forms were blurs, that it seemed as though the gowns and the figures beneath them had truly become a sphere of light which emanated from it all colors of the spectrum.

The voice of the Grand Virgin became ferocious and powerful. Lucas could hear the emotion in her voice and she struggled to be heard over the silent chorus of color that encircled her, her face and her body invisible within the bright cloud.

“Your alone is the light to eternity! Yours alone is the voice of Heaven! Through you are peace, love, and hope! Through you are wisdom, courage, and strength! Through you is the light made manifest, that the darkness might be driven forever, unto the White City, unto the final age, unto the doom and the resurrection, and unto the end of all things!”

In an instant the Virgins dropped to their knees, and the swirling mass settled around them, their gowns falling to rest on the ground. They seemed so otherworldly within their gowns and veils, as though they were not women at all but spirits dancing, and now the dance was done. Lucas strained to see their chests rising and falling, trying to prove to himself that they were humans who breathed.

The Grand Virgin bowed her head. “In the name of the Father,” she concluded.

An chorus followed from the many voices of the crowd in the Square, “In the name of the Father,” they repeated. The Grand Virgin did this again twice, and each time the crowd responded in the same manner. Lucas did not call back the benediction with the others. He always remained silent during prayers. It wasn’t forbidden, though it usually elicited confused responses. This time no one was paying attention to him. Rex had uttered the benediction each of the three times confidently, his voice quivering, Eric had joined silently, and Hephaestion had said it the first time but not repeated.

Lucas turned to see Rex had tears in his eyes and he reached up with the back of his hand and wipes them away.

The Grand Virgin raised her bowed head and gestured for the others to stand, they did so and then bowed toward to the crowd. The crowd began to applaud and cheer wildly. Lucas could now see smiles on the faces of the Virgins. From the edge of the circle came several members of the New Alexandrian council, one of whom came to stand in the center, and over the chatter he announced that the Feast of the Father would now begin in the dining halls of the Grand Cathedral, and the crowd parted to make way for the Virgins, led by the Grand Virgin, who proceeded again in two single file lines up the steps, and the great doors were opened. The procession of Virgins went inside, and council members filed in behind them, and then the townspeople were allowed to follow.

Lucas tried to stay near to the others and had a hand on Eric’s shirt sleeve, but was quickly knocked around by people clamoring to make it to the Grand Cathedral, and eventually he had to make his way out of the crowd and stand back at the edge of the Central Square and stood on the sidewalk by a storefront, waiting to see his friends in the crowd. He looked among the sea of faces for them but he couldn’t make them out, then suddenly caught a flash of Eric’s red hair in the waning sunlight, and he made his way through the crowd to Lucas and stood on the sidewalk with him. “Rex already went in!” he shouted over the commotion, “Hephaestion is looking for you! I told him if I found you, I’d tell you to wait for him!”

Lucas nodded.

Eric smiled and ran back into the current of people. Lucas found a bench nearby and sat down.

Several minutes passed. Dusk was beginning to fall. The crowd was thinning. People were still proceeding from the other streets into the Central Square and toward the Grand Cathedral. Lucas did not feel particularly hungry, but then, most people attending the Feast of the Father were there for the ceremony and not the food anyway. He found himself lost in thought, remembering the swirling chorus of color from the Virgins, the way their bodies moved so quickly and so silently that they seemed to cease to be human at all.

Lucas had always found Virgins slightly disconcerting. It wasn’t that they were intimidating, in fact it was precisely the fact that looking upon a Virgin seemed to fill everyone with gentle calm that he found so confounding. He never quite understood how or why it happened, but upon beholding a Virgin, people seemed to be filled with peace, and this is why such a large procession of Virgins was such a spectacle. And these Virgins had come from Augustine, the holy city, and the seat of the Church of Light. They were at once revered religious icons and also respected on a level rivaling royalty. To Alexandrians they were respected even more, because New Alexandria had no royal family anymore, only a steward whose position, like the royalty itself, was entirely ceremonial.

Lucas felt something nudge his shoulder and he jumped. He looked beside him to see Hephaestion had sat down next to him, and he leaned forward with his elbows on his thighs, smiling at Lucas. “Pondering the mysteries of existence.”

“Virgins scare me a little,” said Lucas.

“I think they’re supposed to,” said Hephaestion, “But it was quite a show, huh?”

“It was,” agreed Lucas, and with a sigh he stood, “Off to the Feast then?”

Hephaestion’s warm smile became a sly grin. “I had another idea, actually.”

Lucas tilted his head in genuine bemusement. “Yes?”

“Well,” Hephaestion glanced around, and though the crowd had thinned there were still plenty of people passing by, though none seemed particularly interested in the two young men. “Remember last week when you told me about the royal library?”

“The one in the castle,” remembered Lucas, “Yeah, it’s closed up. No one tends it anymore, I tried to convince my father to give me the position of the library’s retainer, but he said it was a foolish request and that I should focus more on my studies.”

“But you said you’ve seen it before, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Well yes,” said Lucas, “But I was much younger, and it’s back when the library was actually open. Now it’s closed off along with the rest of the royal wing of the castle, even the Steward doesn’t live there.”

“But you know how to get there, yes?” asked Hephaestion.

Lucas furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Well… yes?” he ventured.

“Excellent!” Hephaestion leapt to his feet, “Then we’re going on an adventure!”

Lucas’ eyes widened, “Hephaestion, we can’t go into the royal wing, we can’t even go into the castle!”

“Your father is still there, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Yes, he probably is, but he of all people wouldn’t let us in.”

Hephaestion shook his head with a grin, “We tell the guards you’re there to see your father and they let us in, and then we sneak into the royal wing!”

Lucas folded his arms. “What’s gotten into you?” he asked amusedly, “You’re not usually this mischievous.”

It was now that Hephaestion indicated a brown satchel on the bench behind him. Lucas suddenly realized that Hephaestion had been carrying it since joining the party after the bout, but hadn’t thought about it or wondered what it might contain. “Well,” said Hephaestion, “I may have found something I’d like to share with you,” and at this he made a gesture with his hand that indicated drinking, “and I’d like to do so in a private location,” he waggled his eyebrows impishly.

Lucas breath caught in his chest for a moment, then asked “Where did you get… that?”

“Borrowed,” said Hephaestion with a grin, “From the stores beneath the military academy. I’ll tell you the story later.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows, “And of all the private locations, you choose a secluded area of the palace?”

Hephaestion folded his arms in mock annoyance, “Are you up for it or not?” he asked in an entirely friendly tone.

Lucas shook his head, “Fine, I didn’t really want to go to the Feast anyway. But you know my father will eventually be leaving the castle, and if he doesn’t notice us, he’ll certainly notice my absence from the Feast.”

Hephaestion waved a hand, “That thing goes on for hours, we’ll be back before he notices you’re gone.”

“What about Rex and Eric?” asked Lucas.

Hephaestion looked thoughtful, “Well, I kind of wanted to spend some time with you.”

Lucas’ heart jumped into his throat and he swallowed quietly. “Alright,” he said finally, “But we need to go quickly while there’s still a crowd. Security at the palace is pretty relaxed under most circumstances, but we’ll probably find the place positively deserted if we can make it through the front gate guards.”

“Yes!” Hephaestion whispered and snatched up his satchel. “Lead the way!”

Fearies Awakening #3: Fey Day

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Chapter one continues!

***

Lucas was striding fast down the cobblestone street, late afternoon sunlight glinting off the shop windows ahead and blinding him momentarily. He put a hand up and kept walking, but didn’t notice that he was walking directly into a large potted plant and stumbled sideways, but caught himself. A couple walking past gave him a confused look and kept on. Lucas sighed and shook shook himself into the present moment, trying to get some focus. His head had been swimming all day because he’d had no sleep the night before.

The street around him was thronged with people, all very well-dressed for tonight’s festivities. Children’s laughter echoed down the alleyways and the smells of desert wafted through the air. Lucas noticed his reflection in a mirror up against the side of a shop and strided over, then leaned in to examine himself.

Quickly he brushed his hands across his silk shirt and vest, and across his trousers. He felt overdressed even for such a formal event. He reached over to his left shoulder, where a metal clip attached to his collar held in place a golden silk scarf, hanging down over his left shoulder and down his back, already catching a breeze and sailing out behind him.

He checked his face in the reflection, ran his fingers quickly through his hair, fine soft hair so light brown that it appeared blonde in the sun, and he rubbed one of his eyes, which were a light grey blue. He had a fair face, and looked younger than nineteen, he was mid-height, and had always been slim. Nothing about him was particularly commanding, though many had commented on the almost girlish fairness of his appearance.

He took a breath and resumed his stride, careful to avoid running into anything. He wasn’t normally so clumsy but the throngs of people turning out for the festival were more difficult to cope with than he had expected. He headed down the cobblestone streets toward the town square, people in all manner of dress thronging the pathways, most dressed formally but some in costumes, dressed as fairies, with wings attached to their backs in all colors and shapes.

There was music in the air as street performers had already begun to play their songs, and the music all began to mingle together in a hazy chorus. There were tents being set up all through the city, and food and drink everywhere. He passed a table where a man was selling glass ornaments, little mythical creatures: minotaurs, squat little elves and goblins, and of course an abundance of fairies.

Fey Day was an annual tradition, though this year it was a much bigger celebration than usual, due to the involvement of the Church, and the visiting of Church officials. They would no doubt see the tradition as sacrilegious, and many of the faithful who had previously indulged in the tradition had already begun decrying it as heresy toward the Father, but in general the people of the city continued the tradition in earnest. New Alexandria had, after all, been settled in land that previously belonged to the Plainsmen, and they were superstitious folk who had actually believed in the existence of fairies. To any ordinary person, though, they were just another quaint local belief, and it happened that dressing as fairies and making merriment was a good use once a year. Lucas always marveled at people’s propensity to make holiday’s out of anything.

Lucas came upon a stage in a large square, where two men were having a duel with wooden swords, both wearing leather armor and holding leather shields. A crowd of onlookers gaped and cheered, and Lucas found who he was looking for at the edge of the crowd.

Lucas tapped Rex on the shoulder, “I thought we were supposed to be meeting in the Central Square?”

Rex turned, an expression of wonder and excitement on his smiling face, and was caught off guard. “Lucas!” he exclaimed, “Good! I was hoping you’d find me.”
“I was hoping you’d be where you told me to meet you,” said Lucas with annoyance.

“Sorry,” said Rex, a little out of breath with excitement, and wiped sweat from his glistening forehead, where he unstuck one of his dark brown curls, “I didn’t know there was going to be a gladiator contest!”

“It’s a sparring contest on a riser in the middle of the street,” said Lucas patiently while shaking his head, “And you have way too much interest in bloodsport.”

“There’s no blood,” protested Rex. “It’s friendly fighting.”

There was a sudden gasp as one fighter dropped his sword and was slammed over the back of the head by the shield of the other, and crumbled to the ground.

Rex turned back and excitedly hopped up to see over the heads of the crowd, “What, what? What’d I miss?”

Lucas sighed. “Can you tell me where Eric is?” he asked.

Without looking away from the action, he motioned off in the direction of the lane leading to the lake, “He’s off playing fairy cards or something.”

Lucas shook his head again and headed away from the crowd, while another gasp erupted. He didn’t bother to see what had happened. He didn’t care for fighting. He walked on down the lane that led to Frost Lake, which cut through the center of the valley in which New Alexandria lay, and circled this edge of town. By the lake were performers: musicians playing guitars and horns, girls dancing while tambourines jangled, beer being passed about everywhere, and as he approached the end of the cobbled lane and walked onto the grass of the hillside, he saw the several tables set up where people were all sitting across from one another, cards in their hands.

Lucas spotted Eric at the edge of one of the tables and walked up quietly behind him. Eric was brooding over a hand of cards, the young man sitting across from him doing the same, and neither spoke. Lucas sat down on the bench next to Eric, who briefly glanced at him without a word and went back to studying his hand, his bright blue eyes trained on the cards before him. Several had already been laid out on the table between the two young men in a pattern Lucas never really bothered to learn.

Eric finally spoke, “Right,” he said, “Two of Swords, then,” and he laid a card on the table before him.

His opponent smirked and immediately laid down his card, “Judgement,” he said.

Eric kicked the ground. He moved several cards from the center of the table into a pile sitting by his deck. He drew a card, smiled, and said “Aha! Wheel of Fortune.”

The young man across from Eric grumbled and laid his cards out on the table. Eric looked them over and pointed a finger at one, “I’ll take that one.” The young man begrudgingly handed it to Eric, who then lay it on his side of the table. “What will you do?” he asked.

The young man drew a card from his deck and laid it down defeatedly, “Three of Cups,” he said with a groan.

Eric grinned and laid down a card, “The Fool. I win.”

The young man looked momentarily annoyed, then grinned and reached out to shake Eric’s hand, “Excellent game.”

Eric nodded and the two shuffled their cards and set them back down on the table. The young man across from Eric got up and walked away, and Eric turned to Lucas, “So I see you found us.”

“You were supposed to be at the Central Square,” said Lucas, but not in the same tone of annoyance he’d given Rex, “I thought we were going to see the Virgins.”

“We are,” said Eric, “But they’re late. The Church procession got in later than expected, though they’ve been pushed back until tonight.”

“Probably for the best,” said Lucas, “Maybe there will be less people there.”

“You really don’t like crowds, do you?” asked Eric with a friendly smile.

“Not if I can avoid them,” replied Lucas.

“You should go see the gladiators,” suggested Eric, “Rex has been standing there for an hour drooling over them.”

“I noticed,” said Lucas.

“You know,” said Eric with a mischievous grin, “Hephaestion’s competing.”

Lucas heart jumped, and he twitched slightly, which Eric seemed to notice. “That’s… nice.” said Lucas.

“Come on,” said Eric, “I know you’ll want to see it. We both know you fancy him,” and he said these last two words in a singsong childish voice.

Lucas rolled his eyes, though he did feel his face getting hot, “You’re ridiculous, you know that?” he said, “And could you please not make jokes like that so loudly?”

Eric crossed leaned leaned and put his face in his hand, “It’s not a joke, Lucas. Everyone can tell.”

“Everyone?” asked Lucas in a scared voice, then added, “There’s nothing to tell, you’re being silly. And I really wish you wouldn’t spread rumours like that.”

“There aren’t any rumours,” said, Eric, “I’ve not said anything. I just see you following him around with your tongue hanging out and your tail wagging.”
“Enough,” said Lucas in a sharp, commanding tone.

Eric looked hurt, “Sorry,” he said, “I was only kidding.”

Lucas felt a stab of guilt, “I’m sorry,” he said ruefully.

Eric stood up and twisted his mouth up in thought, “You know, you can be a lot like your father when you get angry.”

Lucas rolled his eyes, “Is that supposed to make me feel any better?”
Eric sighed and shook his head, then brushed back a lock of his bright red hair. “Come on, let’s go find Rex.”

The two made their way back to the raised stage in the square, Rex had moved closer to the front of the crowd, and Lucas and Eric pushed their way up to him. Some men were scampering off of the stage as they finished clearing things up for the next bout.

“Hey!” said Rex, turning to greet them, “You’re just in time, Hephaestion’s going on next!”

Just as he said it, Lucas saw two young men in leather armor and leather helms approach either side of the arena and walk up the steps. Both had wooden swords and leather shields. One was slightly taller than the other. Rex pointed to this one. “There’s Hephaestion,” he said. “Other one’s Charles Rugby.”

A bell was rung. Rugby charged. Hephaestion stepped forward but remained still, shield ready, and when Rugby reached him he sidestepped the first swipe of Rugby’s wooden sword and knocked him to the side with a bash of his own leather shield. He went to swipe but Rugby recovered quickly and parried with his sword, then pushed Hephaestion backward. Hepheastion sprang sideways and prepared for another charge from Rugby, who once again went on the offensive, running headlong and swinging, Hephaestion parried with his shield and then dropped suddenly and swept a leg under Rugby, who toppled instantly, with a gasp from the crowd.

Rugby fell on his back, and in the time Hephaestion had stood and sprung forward to strike, Rugby had been ready for him and kicked kicked out at Hephaestion, narrowly missing the sword strike but hitting Hephaestion sqaure in the chest. Hephaestion staggered backward, and Rugby sprung up, ran forward and swiped, the sword connected with Hephaestion’s armor and he was knocked backward, remaining to stay on his feet. With a growl, Rugby swiped again, this time Hephaestion was ready and parried with his sword, then with a deft swipe he hit Rugby’s gloved hand, causing Rugby to cry out and drop his sword.

Hephaestion sprang backward and waited for Rugby to move, Rugby screamed something that couldn’t quite be heard over the crowd, but which could be easily inferred to have been obscene, and he had clearly flown into a rage, he dropped his shield and charged Hephaestion. The bell rang again, but Rugby didn’t stop charging. Hephaestion swiped but Rugby caught the wooden sword in his hands and yanked it from Hephaestion’s grip, who stumbled forward, and Rugby punched Hephaestion in the side of the head. The bell rang again, the crowd screamed.

Lucas felt his heart hammering. Rugby had broken the rules. When a combatant drops sword and shield, they automatically lose. Hepheastion placed a gloved hand against the side of his head and then quickly he bashed the side of Rugby’s head with his shield, knocking Rugby to the ground. The bell rang a third time and men rushed the stage. Lucas turned to see what Rex would say, but Rex had already joined the men on stage.

People were tending to both combatants, and a man came on stage to announce that Rugby had committed several fouls, including dropping his weapons and attacking with the intent to harm. Rugby was still on the ground, cursing, and Hephaestion’s helm was removed by Rex, who inspected him.

Lucas caught a glimpse of Hephaestion’s face and his heart jumped. Hephaestion was smiling, he didn’t seem very perturbed that he’d been attacked. His face was smooth and glistening with sweat, but he remained angelic. His lips were wide and his jaw was strong, his skin was a dark olive tan, and his hair was a beautiful mess of deep chestnut curls, and Lucas could see his deep brown eyes glinting in the light, even from this distance.

Hepheastion broke through the small crowd around him to walk over to Rugby and offer him a hand. Rugby had removed his helmet and was scowling at Hephaestion, but took his hand and stood, brushed himself off, and then barked something, presumably hateful. Hephaestion smiled and shook his head, then headed back over to Rex.

The man who had announced Rugby’s foul grabbed Hepheastion’s hand and held his arm above his head, shouting “The winner of this bout is Hepheastion Margrave!” There was an exultant cheer from most of the crowd, and angry grumbling from others. “Next bout in fifteen minutes!” shouted the announcer, and the crowd began to thin as people left to find refreshments and other entertainment. Eric was still standing at Lucas’ side with his arms crossed, and went with Lucas to follow Rex and Hephaestion off the stage and to a corner of the square, where by a doorway Rex and Hephaestion were chatting.

Hephaestion had removed the top porton of his armor, holding it under his arm, and he was shirtless, his strong chest and powerful stomach exposed, nearly hairless, and Lucas felt his face heat up again. Eric playfully nudged an elbow into Lucas’ rib, and Lucas slapped at him.

When Hephaestion saw Lucas and Eric his face lit up again, and he strode over to them. He immediately threw one arm around Lucas, pulling him in, Lucas feeling the warmth of Hephaestion’s naked chest. He suddenly felt a little dizzy.

“Luke!” Hephaestion happily shouted, to be heard over the din of chatter around them, “Did you see the bout?”

“I did,” said Lucas, almost stammering, “Rugby freaked out at you.”

“I know!” said Hephaestion in wonderment, never losing the exultant smile, “But he was the one who started kicking me! I thought if he was going to play dirty I might as well too. Didn’t expect him to drop his weapon and try to pound me though!”

“Well,” said Eric with his arms folded, “It was very sportsmanlike of you to offer him a hand up.”

“Charles is a good guy,” said Hephaestion patiently, “He’s just… easily pissed off. I think he takes everything a little too personally.”

“You were great,” said Lucas in a hushed tone.
Hephaestion grinned, “Thanks Luke! Hey, I’m gonna go shower, meet you here in a few minutes, yeah?”

Hephaestion turned and headed into the doorway nearby and disappeared. Rex ran over, “Can you believe it?” he shouted, “Rugby’s gonna get chewed out by his instructor! I mean, come on, be a man about it!”

“You are far too excited about this,” said Eric.

Rex remained far too excited for the next twenty minutes, as the three stood outside and waited for Hephaestion, who finally emerged, wearing casual clothing, a light cotton shirt and leather pants. He looked even better when he was clean. Lucas shuffled awkwardly when he approached.

Hephaestion threw an arm over Rex’s shoulder, “Time to see the Virgins?” Hephaestion asked happily.

“They won’t be appearing publicly until later tonight,” explained Eric, “There was a delay in their arrival.”

“Too bad,” said Hephaestion, still sounding chirpy, “Let’s get some food then.”

The next hour passed easily enough. Lucas remained mostly silent as he walked along with the three others, Rex still making wild exclamation about Rugby’s behavior, Eric making several sarcastic remarks at Rex’s expense, and Hephaestion eternal earnest optimism bleeding through every syllable to come from his smiling mouth. Lucas found himself staring at Hephaestion while he talked, while he ate… he was so easy to look at. He felt a weakness in his stomach when Hephaestion would catch his eye and try to bring Lucas into the conversation.

Lucas had med Hephaestion a year before at school, and had instantly become friends with him. Then again, Hephaestion became instant friends with most people, he was probably the most friendly person Lucas had ever met. He’d known Eric for the longest, since they were children, and Rex for nearly as long, but of his friends, Hephaestion was his clear favorite and the one to whom he was closest. He wondered about what Eric had said… was it that obvious? Did Hephaestion know?

If he did, he either didn’t mind or didn’t bother to say anything. Hephaestion could be somewhat oblivious, just about every girl at the academy swooned over him and he always seemed entirely surprise when someone report this news to him. In the year Lucas had known Hephaestion, he’d seen him interact with a few girls but he didn’t seem to have much experience in a relationship. Lucas was silently grateful. He didn’t know how he would react to that, but he had heard Hephaestion occasionally rhapsodize about girls he found particularly beautiful. There was an innocence to Hephaestion, an earnestness. He seemed to like everyone, he was always beaming, and he never seemed somber. Contrasted with Lucas’ reserved personality, it was a wonder the two had become friends, but when Lucas was alone with him, he felt much happier and more optimistic. Hephaestion had slept over at Lucas’ house several times. They had several spare bedrooms, after all.

After finding some food (Hephaestion and the others had pork, Lucas had a salad, which he picked at and didn’t eat very much of), dusk began to fall, and the crowds began to head toward Central Square to see the Virgins. Lucas sighed, he supposed there would be a large crowd to contend with after all. He felt conflicted about celebrations like Fey Day: he enjoyed festivity and creativity, but he hated being around so many people.

Lamps were lit along the streets and on the outsides of shops, where many restaurants opened up for dinner. The street musicians kept playing their songs, and women and men wearing wings continued to dance about the sidewalks. High above, the old castle remained silent. Lucas glanced up at it. His father would be coming down from the castle soon, the business of the Church’s arrival had been attended to and all the real political action would begin tomorrow, for now it was enough to secure the Church officials a place to reside (an entire inn in town had been reserved specifically for them, and a separate house for the Virgins). Lucas hoped he didn’t have to hear too much about the proceedings. Politics bored him greatly.

Fearies Awakening #2: The Goblin

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I’ve had a breakthrough. I’ve spent some time recently collating much of the extraneous and conceptual material I’ve written for my book into one place, the word count has reached about 120,000 and counting if I remember correctly. I’ve spent years and years trying to plan out this book, but something has been stopping me from starting work on it. I think it’s that it’s been SO planned, and I’ve thrown so many plans out, that I didn’t know where to begin, or what it would look like. I know a lot about the characters and the story, but it doesn’t have that central thing that ties it all together. I’ve been trying and trying to figure out what the central crux is, the fulcrum on which the rest of the story will turn.

I still don’t know what it is, but I think now that maybe the only way to find it is to set off on the journey with my characters. The story needs a breath of life. I’ve had such a rigid concept of what it needs to be and what it needs to say that I’ve forgotten to let my imagination wander and try new things. Becuase of that, my writing has become stagnant and unmoving. I haven’t known how to begin. I have a books worth of extra material, outlines, notes, and conceptual scenes, but the book itself has barely even begun.

It’s diffiuclt to write a fantasy story without feeling like you’re pilfering from every other fantasy story. There are so many, and they share so many things, that it’s intimidating to even know where to begin. I had a fleeting idea some time ago that I might try something with different fantasy races, I really like having a lot of races. I’ve thought about so many mythical fantasy creatures have been given makeovers: Anne Rice made vampires sexy and compassionate, J. R. R. Tolkien turned elves from tiny mischief makers into tall, lithe and beautiful magicians. Dwarves, well… I’ve never really gotten dwarves. I remembered playing Magic the Gathering when I was a kid, and the many goblin cards, and I saw David Bowie playing the goblin king, and his is still the only goblin I’ve ever seen who was beautiful or fashionable. I thought it might be fun to try something with that idea.

I made a note to start the story with a goblin, and tried to go to bed, but I needed to get up and write the story. At a certain point I thought well I might as well just get up and do it while it’s in my head. A sudden jolt of excitement hit me. I actually thought to myself, “Am I really doing this? Am I really starting the book, finally, after all this time?”

I did.

It’s a breath of fresh air into this world that has become stagnant, despite how deep I’ve sunken into it. I don’t know where the story will go or what shape it will become, but I’m going to let the story lead me to where that place is. I’m not going to force anything anymore, I’m going to let the world and the characters tell me their story, rather than me trying to tell them what their story is.

The prologue exists already, it’s been published on my blog, I’ll probably post it here on Patreon at some point. Read that if you like, to get an idea.

Here it is. The beginning of the first chapter of my book. I don’t know the book’s name yet. I don’t know this character’s name yet. But I’m happy and excited to learn.

***

The goblin dropped his pack on the ground and slumped wearily against a tree, pulling a handkerchief from within his cape and wiping his hooded forehead. He reached into the pack at his feet, rummaged for a moment, and withdrew a silver canteen. With his long, nimble fingers, he hurriedly unscrewed the lid, and popped the canteen eagerly between his lips, cold water rushing over his tongue and cooling his hot head. He took a breath as he wiped some of the spilt water from his chin.

The weather was still warm for mid Autumn, but cool enough for the cape and the hood. He surveyed his surroundings in the forest: a clearing with a small pond, encircled by trees whose leaves shone in the mid-afternoon sun, in the usual shades of gold and red, with a few obstinate clumps of green leaves still clinging to life. The trail he’d taken went right by the pond, and behind him it led up to the hilltop from where, he expected, a lovely view of the city would be commanded.

The wood was lively with creatures. Blue birds chirped high above and didn’t give much care to what happened beneath, too involved in listening to one another’s choruses. A fox stalked timidly up to the other side of the pond and lowered it’s peach colored head to lap up some water hastily, keeping it’s eyes suspiciously trained on the visitor to the wood. A few squirrels had followed him into the clearing, two watched curiously from a tree branch while another more brash squirrel stood on it’s hind legs in the middle of the trail, staring straight ahead.

The goblin grinned and laughed a little. He was used to this. Wild animals were always intensely curious about goblins, and despite how easy it might be to pass as human amongst a human society, the animals could smell it on him. With his long fingers he reached up and let down his hood, shaking his tawny, lengthy mess of Amber hair from his shoulders, and reached up to pick a leaf from his bangs. He held it in front of him and the squirrel who stood on the ground cocked his head to the side, the goblin smiled and blew hard on the leaf, sending it dancing into the air, and causing the squirrel to turn and run behind a tree.

Leaving his pack on the ground, the goblin made his way over to the pond with only a few strides of his long legs. The fox on the other side of the pond glanced up but didn’t move, the goblin made sure to move as lithely and unthreatening as possible, and was actually surprised when the fox bent down to lap up some more water. The goblin bent from his considerable height down to his knees, reached two hands into the pond, and splashed some water on his face. He could see in his periphery this frightened the fox away.

In the rippling water he could see a reflection of his rather long face, water dripping along the sharp angles of his cheekbones and down his pointed chin. His nose had a gentle upward curve at the tip, but was far rounder than most goblins. Long ears protruded from within his lengthy mess of amber hair, and he made a mental note that he’d need to do some work on them to make himself look passably human before he made it to the city.  His long bangs had been splashed and clung wet to his forehead. His eyes were the caramel color that even in a blurry reflection could still be striking. He cocked a grin at his reflection, then pulled out his handkerchief again to wipe his wife. The poor thing had faded from stark white to a dull yellow from weeks of use on the road. He suspected the rest of his clothes had suffered similarly.

He stood and stretched, feeling his joints give several loud creaks. He placed a long finger on his chin and used the slightly pointed nail to scratch his chin in thought. He briefly considered stopping here to lunch, but no, the city was near enough that he could have a proper dinner, and if the gods willed, a bath. He did not like the muddy baths he’d been forced to take in the great river that ran along his path here. Almost better to stay filthy than to bother attempting to wash and then putting on clothes that were quickly beginning to turn sour from overuse.

He smirked again at his own sheepishness. He’d never really liked traveling.

He turned and marched back over to his pack, where one of the squirrels had taken the liberty of inspecting the open side pouch, and who now had his upper body very well buried in it. The goblin barked a little laugh, giving the squirrel a start as it’s head darted back out, and he reached down to throw the pack over his shoulder. Surprisingly, the squirrel climbed over the pack and onto the goblin’s shoulder, and began to inspect the large folds of one of his pointed ears, sticking it’s little wet nose in and giving it a sniff.

The goblin set off again up the path, and quickly came to the hilltop, where just as he suspected, he found a magnificent view.

The hill dropped somewhat steeply down from here, and the trees thinned out, and ahead of him, set in the middle of a lush valley lined with golden trees and streams that glinted faraway in the light of the sun, was the city. A magnificent old castle stood at the far end of the city, round spires rising toward the sky, grey stone battlements, roofs with dark blue tiles that glinted against the light. The goblin admired it’s classic design, this was the kind of architecture not often seen anymore in human cities. In the distance behind the city were dense forests that climbed up onto mountains, and the sky above was a crystalline blue, wispy clouds fluttering across and the bright noon sun in the center of the sky.

Surrounding the castle were rows of houses with thatched roofs and tile, he could see cobblestone streets, and even from this distance the goblin could see with his keen eyes people bustling everywhere. He cocked his head thoughtfully for a moment, and the squirrel on his shoulder shook its tail. He wondered if perhaps the gatherings had already begun, but he had been quite sure he was a day early. Perhaps it was just a very busy city. Human cities usually had that effect on outsiders: they always seemed to be scurrying about like ants, always in a hurry, never stopping to look around. But that’s just how humans were, and he’d learned to accept it. It was charming, once one became acclimated. Goblin cities — to whatever degree there actually were goblin cities — never seemed to be quite so busy, but then goblins didn’t live very communally.

The goblin shrugged, and a gust of cold wind caught the side of his face and the nape of his neck, causing him to shiver, and he remembered to pull up his hood. He felt the squirrel’s nose poke against the fabric by his ear. He set off downhill, relieved that the journey was finally becoming easier, and also that it was nearly over. His heart pounded in his chest a little with excitement, it had been some time since he’d seen so many people gathered at once. He hoped the trip would prove worthwhile.