8 Podcasts You Should Listen To

I first discovered the existence of podcasts back in about 2011. The first podcast I ever listened to was called Downstage Center from the American Theatre Wing, where they interviewed just about every important theater acter from Broadway to Shakespeare. After that I started just searching iTunes for interviews with people I liked, like Imogen Heap, Tori Amos or Gregory Maguire.

More recently I’ve discovered podcasts again, and wow has the landscape changed since 2011. There are some really fantastic podcasts out there, and the best thing is that no matter what you’re interested in, there is probably at least one great-quality podcast out there. On top of that, because podcasts are almost always free, it’s a great medium to create in. I experimented with doing my own podcast and would like to come back to it at some point, though probably with a more focused idea of what I was doing. All that being said, I’m going to share with you some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, and what I think of them.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy
Hosted by David Barr Kirtley and John Joseph Adams

If I had to pick a “favorite podcast,” this would probably be it. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is a podcast primarily centered around science fiction and fantasy, but honestly they touch on just about every element of geek culture. The podcast is hosted by Wired.com, so there is oftentimes an element of technology. Host David Barr Kirtley is really unique among podcast hosts, because he’s very good at asking questions that allow the guest to give a complete, uninteruppted answer. He is very skilled at leading the guest toward a topic they want to expand on, and he only pops in to offer commentary or ask further questions when it serves the guests narrative, he doesn’t monopolize the interviews by interjecting much with his own experience. This style of letting the guest have center stage has led some critics to think David is uninterested in the subject matter, but as you can see from the panel episodes, this is certainly not the case. The earlier episodes of Geek’s Guide usually included an interview as well as a panel discussion with fellow host John Joseph Adams and various other geeks (usually writers), however in recent years they’ve split the two formats into different episodes, which I personally like because it keeps the episodes from getting overloaded.

Pretty much every important “geek luminary” you can imagine has been interviewed on this podcast. Just some of their guests include: Philip Pullman, Richard Dawkins, George R.R. Martin, John Cleese, Patrick Rothfuss, R.A. Salvatore, Naomi Novak, Andy Weir, Ernest Cline, Ken Liu, Amanda Palmer, Diana Gabaldon, Christopher Moore, Dan Simmons, Margaret Atwood, Felicia Day, Lev & Austin Grossman, Gregory Maguire, and this is just scratching the surface. Short of Neil Gaiman and the Star Trek captains, there are very few icons of geek culture who have not appeared on the show.

I definitely recommend listening to Geek’s Guide, and you can start anywhere. Just scroll through the episode list and find some people and topics you want to hear about. They also have a Patreon, which is a great way to support the show.

Timesuck
Hosted by Dan Cummins

This is a new one for me. I’ve listened to Dan Cummins’ comedy for a long time on Pandora, and recently he started running ads after his comedy clips for the podcast, so I went to check it out. Basically Dan explores topics that go down the rabbit hole, no matter what the subject, as long as there is a plethora of information about it. Some of those topics include flat earth conspiracy theories, belief in Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster, the history of alien sightings, an examination on Walmart, conspiracy theories about lizard illimunati, and historical overviews of Hitler’s rise to power, Lyndon Johnson and his fascination with his own penis, and a variety of serial killers including Charles Manson, H.H. Holmes, and Ted Bundy.

Dan is one of the few people I’ve heard successfully carry an entire podcast by himself, he has only had a guest on the show one time so far (though it was hilarious and fun), and manages to keep me interested. He also intersperses some great comedy among his examinations, including my personal favorite bit about sucking the nipples of Irish kings (true story, by the way) during The Dead Do Tell Tales, and a hilarious anecdote about his occasionally obstinate daughter Monroe and a plastic dog during Robert the Cursed Doll.

Though I only just started listening to this series a few weeks ago, I highly recommend it.

Nerdist
Hosted by Chris Hardwick

I am probably one of the few people in the world who really didn’t know about Nerdist until somewhat recently. Last year I had a brief obsession with Maria Bamford after listening to her comedy and watching her Netflix series Lady Dynamite (which if you haven’t seen it is basically a very weird and meta dissection of the comedy genre), and found her interview on the show. Nerdist is just shy of a thousand episodes so there is a LOT of material, and as is the case with Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, if you just search for the name of any geek icon you’re likely to find an interview. My personal favorites are the interviews with Patrick Stewart, who has a fantastic sense of humour and seems to genuinely enjoy his time with Chris and the Nerdist crew. Not much else to say, just a really great place to find interviews with nerd icons.

Ardent Atheist
Hosted by Emery Emery

2013 was my year of atheism. It began with God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, then Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and from there I went into an infinite spiral of atheist culture. One of my personal favorites was the Austin, Texas based Atheist Experience, a public access call-in show where a small panel of atheists basically listen to a bunch of hillbillies give weak explanations for the existance of God while the panel responds with some quiet and sane logic. At any rate, during this time I searched for some atheist podcasts and very briefly listened to part of an episode of Ardent Atheist, but I think at the time I got distracted and forgot to come back.

Recently I tried listening again and found that this show is pretty fantastic. Emery is fiery and hilarious, prone to outbursts and often flying into a screaming rage, but always about important injustices in the world that should be addressed, and even so, he still listens to opposing views. The panel is almost always made of atheists, so there isn’t exactly a lot of theological debate so much as there is a collective examination of the theological ideas of others, and a lot of time spent calling out religious nut-jobs who do real damage in the world. If you’re looking for a good show based in atheism, this is a great one.

Serial
Hosted by Sarah Koenig

I remember hearing a lot of buzz about Serial a few years ago when it first came out. I never listened to it, and I briefly had it confused with Thrilling Adventure Hour, so when I downloaded the first episode I fully expected a comedy podcast, having no idea what I was walking into. What I found was the incredibly compelling story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, supposedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Sarah Koenig is a journalist who examines the many flaws in the handling of the case, and really attempts to get to the bottom of who exactly killed Hae Min Lee, and most importantly, if Adnan was convicted when he is really innocent.

For his part, Adnan maintains his innocence, and every claim he makes about the circumstances surrounding the murder turn out to be true, while his representation at the hands of an attourney whose health was failing was very questionable. An alibi who never appeared during the trial ends up involved, and Sarah and her producer go through every aspect of the case, from a mysterious stranger in the park the day Hae’s body was found, to the incredibly weird Jay, a friend of Adnan’s who claims to have helped Adnan bury the body of Hae and then became the state’s star witness by testifying against Adnan.

I can warn you that there isn’t really a clear ending to this story. As of this writing, Adnan is still in prison, although Sarah’s work with Serial was responsible for getting Adnan another trial, and details are still sparse. There is a second season of Serial about the defection of U.S. soldier Bo Bergdahl, which admittedly I didn’t find quite as interesting and which I haven’t finished, but the first season is incredibly gripping, although be prepared for some disturbing details. I actually listened to the entirety of the first season in one night, beginning at around 8pm and ending the next morning, absolutely exhausted and barely awake but unable to stop listening.

And for what it’s worth, I think Jay did it.

Welcome to Night Vale
Hosted by Cecil Palmer (played by Cecil Baldwin)
Written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale is the first podcast on this list to be completely fictional. It is somewhat like a radio play, except that the majority of episodes are narrated by a single character, Cecil Palmer, the host of a public radio station in the desert town of Night Vale. Night Vale is basically an incredibly creepy little town where Lovecraftian horrors are commonplace and where the ordinary is treated as unusual and the macabre as ordinary. From the first episode it’s clear that the central protagonist Cecil is gay, and in love with a newcomer in town, a scientist named Carlos. As times goes on, Night Vale’s popularity has grown and they’ve done several live episodes which include a full cast of actors portraying their characters in the style of a radio play. Night Vale’s popularity has led to the publication of a novel based in the town, and a second novel to be released soon.

The series begins a little slowly, and honestly I’m not quite as interested in the horror aspects of the show, simply because there isn’t one concrete narrative. The story is not really a story so much as a free form exploration of the town, with several recurring characters and running gags. Some episodes are better than others, but the writing has gotten consistently better as time goes on. Every episode also features a “weather” segment, which is a musical break, always featuring music from independent artists. You’re likely to find some cool new artists to follow through the weather segments.

Terms
By Spoke Media

Terms is another fictional podcast, very much done in the style of a radio play. Terms is more or less an examination of Donald Trump’s rise to becoming the president of the United States. But in Terms, things play out very differently. The central character is the outgoing president of the United States, Oliver Pierce, a Republican who managed to gain incredible popularity and revitalized his party, popular among both Republicans and Democrats. On election night it becomes clear that Republican candidate Charles Dunwalke, a malicious, maniacal anarchist who wants to provoke war around the world and disrupt the foundation of American principles (and who is, VERY clearly, a fictional representation of Donald Trump), is going to become the next preisdent, and Pierce begins to play a dangerous political game to ensure that Dunwalke doesn’t take office.

The writing of this story is very cliche, and I found myself rolling my times at least once during every episode, because the dialogue is very similar to the corny dialogue of crime procedurals, and the acting varies from pretty good to absolutely bad. Still, the story is interesting and the episodes aren’t incredibly long, so it’s very easy to get sucked in. The music, while a bit cliche, is also pretty good, and a little bit scary. But that might just be because I’ve primarily listened to the show while driving around at night.

Myths and Legends
Hosted by Jason Weiser

I’m really glad that this podcast exists. It’s one of those shows that is both entertaining and educational. Think of any famous legend, from mythology, literature or history, and it’s likely that it’s been touched on in this show, or will be at some point. Jason will choose a topic, and then combine several versions of the mythology surrounding it into one clear narrative, telling it in the form of a story, while adding in his own commentary. There’s some great ambient music underscoring the stories as well. He’s touched on topic from Greek and Arthurian legends to the history of The Little Mermaid, and my personal favorite, a two-part episode surrounding the events of the life of Pocahontas, told from the perspective of the settlers as well as the natives. Jason seems to make it a point to make sure that even during episodes with intense subject matter involving sex and death, he tries to keep the show fairly family friendly, which means that often sexuality is alluded to rather than spoken about explicitly, which admittedly I find a little annoying, because explicit sexuality and gore are an important part of these legends. He doesn’t do the legends any disservice, however, it’s just one element of the show that bothers me a little. Still, all in all this is a great podcast, and like Timesuck with Dan Cummins, it’s not only entertaining but really informative. There’s nothing better than learning while being entertained.

Advertisements

Patron Blog #7

Where have I been? Why haven’t I posted anything? Am I still writing my novel? What happened to my musical projects? Have I joined a Dionysian cult and wandered off into the hills to participate in ritualistic blood orgies?The answer to those questions and more, in this exciting patron update.

So first of all, hi. I know I’ve been absent for a while.

Truthfully I’ve been absent for a long time. Most of my blog posts begin with an apology for not having written more. But honestly, the apology is to myself. Because I want to write. I want to write badly. I just do these that keep me from being able to, or I try to put too many rules on myself and never end up writing.

For example. I’m best at writing in conversational style. A really professional looking, article style blog post, is difficult. It’s difficult to get my thoughts together enough to even begin writing. And the irony is that writing is HOW I get my thoughts together.

I’ve tried several times throughout the course of writing in my blog to create little “series.” I’ve attempted several times to number my blog posts, but then I get caught up trying to figure out what actually COUNTS as a blog post (fun fact: I recently went through my blog and counted. This is the part of the paragraph where I would tell you what the total number was, but as I just now discovered, I have no idea where I put the notepad document with the number on it. Anyhow, it was over 200)

There are a lot of series or features I want to write on my blog: I’ve wanted for years now to do a thing called “spotlight” or possibly “let’s talk about it,” where I just pick a topic (usually a thing, like a movie, an album, a video game) and just write down my thoughts about it. No pressure, no outlines, just conversational. I also want to do top ten lists about songs I love or albums I recommend. I want to do a series where I just rant about religion and about society. I have notes written down for all of these, but I never get around to posting them. I took some notes during my trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC that I want to post, but again, I haven’t gotten around to it.

So why am I not writing? I want to write. I see things every day I want to write about. I have thoughts I want to chronicle. But I freak myself out by attempting to give the writing structure before I even say what I’m thinking. And then there’s the fact that some days I just write better than others. As you can see, today is not an eloquent, professional day, it’s a scatter-brained, almost illegible day.

But that’s okay. The most important thing is that I write.

So. Where have I been?

I went on a trip, back to Delaware to stay with my two friends who I lived with for a year. And joining me was a very special guy who lives in England, who came to visit me and some of our mutual friends. We had an amazing time together. Two weeks. We went to Washington DC, we saw some monuments, we went to the Holocaust museum, we went to a lot of restaurants, and I tried my best to fit in everything American I could imagine while he was here. We went to the beach, we went to an island where wild horses live, and we did a lot of kissing, snogging, and making out.

He snogged me so hard that his chin stubble rubbed my face raw. It was terribly painful. But I still think that’s a pretty cute story.

I realized, while I was there, that I haven’t been living since I left Delaware. I shut down, emotionally and mentally, and I’ve been existing, but not living. And I realized that as long as I’m near my family that’s never going to change. So I made the decision that I’m going to get out. I did my taxes, and I should have a hefty return coming to me. I intend to use that money to get my car on the road again, and get the hell out.

So where do I go? Well, that’s been a big issue. Several friends offered to help me out. One in Portland, Oregon, one in Austin, Texas, one in Massachusetts, and another possibly here in North Carolina. It’s been difficult to know who to choose or what to do. Each option provides issues: some of them are just too far away to reasonably drive without spending a crazy amount on food or lodging, some of them offer great possibilities but are in an area where I don’t want to live, and some of them are with possible roommates who’s credibility I honestly can’t vouch for, and I don’t know who I can trust.

I waited for several weeks for my tax returns to come in the mail before discovering that in fact, they’d never been submitted, so now I have to mail them in. It’s been aggravating. I feel like my life has been on hold, and the worst thing is that I’m getting used to being here again. I’m getting used to living in my mom’s house, getting used to being… not dead inside, but silent. It’s like who I really am just burrows up inside my chest and waits until it has a chance to get out.

I have to get out. It’s a matter of survival. So, when I get the money, I’ll make a decision, one way or another, and get out.

What have I been doing?

Mostly nothing. I’m serious. I’ve been laying around, not exercising, eating poorly, playing video games, masturbating and watching quiz shows online. I have been doing a lot of reading, and I’m excited to do a sort of review about a series that I’m reading. But in general, I’ve stalled.

Like I said, being here just drains the life out of me. It drains my will to do anything, my will to better myself, my will to be alive. It’s the only way I know how to survive being in the presence of such a controlling and abusive person as my mother. I have to tread lightly to try and avoid upsetting her, but that’s unavoidable, as she is perpetually angry at someone, and always more than willing to blame it on me, or my sister, or whoever else is around her. I have to get away.

I just keep telling myself that I can do this. I can get away. I can survive. She will tell me that I can’t go it on my own, but maybe I can.

Amidst all of this confusion about where to go, who to choose to help me, I came up with a surprising idea.

I could just go it on my own.

Where?

There’s a place here in North Carolina which, from my perspective, is sort of the promised land. It’s a place called Asheville. It’s up in the mountains, and it’s apparently a haven for gay people, hippies, and art nerds. There’s a college there, and supposedly there are lots of massage parlors, vegetarian supermarkets, there’s a place called The Light Center in the mountains which is like a spiritual healing retreat. There are a lot of pagans there, and it just generally seems to be my kind of place. Also it’s supposed to be utterly beautiful.

I’m going to visit there first thing when I get my car on the road again. I’ve wanted for a long time to try and go there, and I just thought… maybe I should just do it. I’ll have a bit of money to fall back on, so I should just go, find a place, find a job, and start living. Maybe I don’t need someone else to take care of me.

I still don’t know what I’ll do for sure. But I know that I have to do something, and maybe this is what I’ve been waiting for. Maybe this is my chance. My chance to be alive.

As for my novel.

It’s been a difficult journey. This book and I are constantly battling one another. I want to write it, and yet I know so much and so little about it. I have years of notes, scenes, and scrapped chapters written, and still I’ve never truly gotten started on it. My most recent attempt was a bit of a false start. I got stalled in the first chapter and couldn’t get past it, despite trying to rewrite it. I’ve gone back to the drawing board and given myself an outline, and I plan to start again.

I don’t know how many false starts this book will have. I don’t know how many rewrites there will be. But one day, it will be born, it will be alive, and people will see it. And I will be seen. And I will be able to live on, because my heart will be written down.

So what am I going to do now?

I’m going to start writing, with a modest goal of doing a little writing every day, even if it’s something small. I’m going to go back to working on my health, and going to the gym on a mostly-daily basis. I’m going to try and help myself to get out of this situation, and I’m going to keep trying when I fail.

I plan to start writing blogs again soon. Updates about my life, about my interests, about my thoughts. Rants and ideas and recommendations, pieces of me, laid out for you to read. It’s what I want to do.

I’ll be back soon. Thank you for sticking around. There is more to come.

Fearies Awakening #4: A Procession Of Virgins

town square
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

4613598684793039751

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.