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.

Fearies Awakening #1: Green Fire, Black Sky

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Patreon will not allow me to back date a post, so there’s a sequence break over on my Patreon page. This is the prologue, which takes place before The Goblin (the first installment of chapter one). Over here on the blog, you can read more about what started the writing of the book in the next post.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            She held up a hand instinctively to shield herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Place

 

Author’s Note: Hi again! It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything in this universe, but the characters have been with me all this time. This is a scene I wrote today. As with most everything I’ve written in this story, it takes place right in the middle of everything, so it’s a bit difficult to come in as a reader, having no idea who anyone is. The only really important things to know, here, are that Lucas is our main character, a prince with the power of Fire Magick. The Libra are a race of people who look a bit like humans crossed with cats, this isn’t an entirely knew concept, but I really like it, and I’ve always enjoyed the idea of people having tails. Right now in my mind they look a lot like the Miqo’te from Final Fantasy XIV, or maybe Rei from the Breath of Fire series. The Lufian Witches are a sect of humans who follow the teachings of their goddess Lufia, and who are reflective of real world Pagans, though with a bit more Magick power. Sanrin is a leader among the Libra, and Ioan is a friend to both Lucas and Sanrin, he’s something of an outcast and a maverick among his people. This scene takes place right in the middle of things, but I hope it isn’t too jarring. Enjoy!

“There was no standing against the combined might of Alexandria and the Church in Augustine, so the king at the time, Magnus Cornelius, who was a supporter of the Lufian’s way of life, was faced with the choice of joining in the genocide of an entire people, or fighting a war with Alexandria he could not possibly win and have his entire army killed. So, the king abandoned Dulhan, abdicating the throne and is rumoured to have disappeared into the Mist Lands of the north, where he was never heard from again. This led to an internal struggle for the crown of Dulhan, and the throne was eventually assumed by Revlan Cornelius, the second cousin of King Magnus, whose son sits on the throne today.”

“That’s a fascinating history lesson you’re giving him,” a voice called as a figure leaped from the shadows of the rock face and landed squarely in front of Sanrin. The figure’s black ears twitched and his tail flicked as he stood up straight, “But you should probably get to the point.”

“Hello, Ioan,” said Sanrin calmly.

“Ioan,” breathed Lucas in surprise, “Where have you been? How did you-“

“I’ve found my way out of worse situations,” interrupted Ioan with a grin and a wink. “So,” he said, crossing his arms and turning to Sanrin, tail swishing confidently behind him, “You going to get to the war or keep talking internal Dulhanese politics? Because frankly, that part is boring.”

Sanrin sighed and shook his head knowingly, as though he had had this conversation with Ioan before, “One must understand the past to know which path they should walk today,” he said, “Lucas must know the whole story, not just the information that pertains to our people.”

Ioan rolled his eyes, “Well get to the mass murder already,” he said.

Sanrin sighed again, and turned to look at Lucas, “As Ioan has so eloquently pointed out, the war began in earnest when Dulhan joined Alexandria in their religious quest to rid the world of the Lufians, claiming their Magick to be an abomination against the Angel of God. It was at this point that the Libra stepped in.”

“To their eternal regret,” said Ioan.

“We don’t regret it, even now,” replied Sanrin calmly.

“Well it didn’t turn out well for us.”

“What happened?” asked Lucas.

“Take a look,” said Ioan darkly.

They continued walking and crested the hill. Below them lay a deep valley, surrounded by cliffs, with paths leading down into a massive lush vale, dotted everywhere with large, grey stones.

“What’s that?” asked Lucas.

“Can’t you guess?” replied Ioan cheekily.

“It’s a graveyard,” said Sanrin somberly.

Lucas eyes opened wide. The valley looked like it could be a mile wide, and the stones of all shapes and sizes jutted out from every corner. “It’s so… big…” he said, unable to think of an appropriate word.

“Aye,” said Ioan with his eyebrows raised.

“The Libra,” said Sanrin, “Stepped in to defend the Lufians, who were not warriors and who possessed no real offensive power with which to defend against an army. Their Magick has always been a peaceful Craft, a philosophy based in reverence for nature and a desire to become one with it. This is a value the Libra have always understood and respected. Though the Lufian Witches were human, they were like us, and we chose to defend them.”

“Not all of us, I might point out,” said Ioan.

“No,” agreed Sanrin, “Not all. There was much debate among the Libra, but there was little time, and it was before either my time or yours, Ioan, so we can’t know exactly what transpired. What we do know is that enough of the Chieftans among the tribes agreed to help the Lufians, and the war began.”
“It wasn’t much of a war,” said Ioan bitterly.

Lucas stared out at the massive graveyard. “The stones,” he said,” It looks like they’re all blank. There aren’t names or anything written ont hem.”

“That’s because this is a mass grave, little human,” said Sanrin, “There are hundreds upon hundreds of Libra sleeping side by side beneath the ground, and the stones may mark individaul places where certain important members of our tribes are buried, but only their families know which stone is which, and truly no one can say who is buried where. This is the central gravesite, where my ancestors brought their dead in the war to bury them with proper ceremonies, but the bones of the Libra inhabit all of the Hrothgar Plains. Their bodies lie within the ground, the mountains, the caves, our bodies and spirits are everywhere. There are other gravesites, but this is the holiest of them, the most respected by our people.”
Sanrin crossed his arms. His white ears shivered a little against the wind, and his tail stiffened. “It is harrowing to see, but it is the truth. We stood against the armies of Alexandria, and Dulhan, and Augustine, and we fought to protect the witches. Many among their number fought alongside us, brave women and men who put down their books of spells, abandoned their peaceful ways and took up swords to battle. But they were untrained in the arts of war, and the Libra are hunters, we kill for food and clothing and shelter, we do not practice war as sport the way humans do. We were outnumbered, outclassed, and outmatched. Our people fell, and so did the Lufians.”

“So the Lufians…” asked Lucas, “They’re all dead?”

“It is difficult to say,” replied Sanrin, staring out across the valley, “I am told that there was a great effort to hide the Lufians using Magick, to take them to secret villages and keep them concealed. The greatest of these was the city of Madeena, which lay in the vast forest land to the east, but during the war the forest was enchanted, and even to this day very few have entered the forest and made it back out.”

“Or when they do, they enter on one end of the continent and are deposited on another,” said Ioan. “The eastern forests are said to be the home of the Faeries, though few have ever even claimed to have seen Faeries, and I’ve certainly never met one.”

“The problem was,” continued Sanrin, “The eastern forest and the bastion of Madeena was too far away. We Libra tried to get the Lufians there but we were cut off at every turn. It was an out and out slaughter of both our people. The armies of Alexandria and Dulhan, and the soldiers of Augustine, they didn’t care who they cut down, human or Libra, we were all idolators and heathens to them. They saw us as tools of some unseen devil, armies of darkness. All we ever wanted was to live in peace in the land that was rightfully ours, and we even accepted the Lufians who were human and who did not belong here, because they respected our land and our people. Some of the Lufians were evacuated to the eastern forests, and maybe in those twisting vines and hidden paths they found sanctuary, but most of us, the Libra and the Lufians, were killed before we made it that far.”

“But the Lufians are almost entirely gone, now,” interjected Lucas, “And the Libra still survive, there are still enough of you to constitute your own people.”

“There are probably just as many Lufian in the world as there are Libra,” said Sanrin, “But they look like every other human, so they either hid their faith or abandoned it entirely. Some Lufians defected to the enemy and helped slaughter their own people. Very, very rarely did a Libra ever do such a thing, and if he attempted to he’d have been cut down just for having ears and a tail different from those of humans. The Lufians went into hiding, but they could hide in plain sight. The Libra had no such luxury, because we were unfortunate enough to simply LOOK different than the humans.”

“They think we’re animals,” said Ioan to Lucas, “Humans have always talked about the Libra as THINGS, not people. They think of us as some kind of animal-human hybrid, when in truth there’s no human in us at all. It’s rare that a Libra can even mate with a human, and believe me, there were plenty of romances between Lufians and Libra during the war.”

“You said the war was before your time, Sanrin,” said Lucas.

“It was,” agreed Sanrin, “But I was born when the war was just ending, so as a child I never stayed in one place long, my tribe was constantly on the move. Now there are a few safe havens for our people, the three great powers who were fighting us were fighting an IDEA, the idea of Lufia and Libra spirituality, they were trying to eradicate the notion that someone could worship someone other than their Angel. As soon as the Lufians were eliminated, or as I should properly say it, as soon as the dissenting HUMANS were eliminated, they considered the war over. The Libra didn’t even merit a war, they were happy to kill us if we stood against them in favor of the Lufians, but we were always savage wild folk to them, and they weren’t interested in converting us. They didn’t want Angel-worshipping Libra walking down their streets. That, perhaps, shows the truth of it.”

“They didn’t care really about Angelism,” Ioan picked up, “They just wanted to make sure that humans knew where the power was. It was all to keep the structure intact: follow your kings, follow your Angel, follow your leaders, and do not step out of line. Once they were done with effectively destroying the Lufian faith, they were done with the war. They’ve always held animosity toward the Libra just for being different from them, but Hrothgar was our land before it was theirs. They think themselves kings, but they’re only kings over other humans.”

“Peace, little cub,” said Sanrin.

Ioan huffed.

“This,” Sanrin stretched his hand out to show the valley, “This is what your people did. You were not part of it, but they are your people, and you are their prince.”

“But I’m not really the prince,” said Lucas, “My father is Varner, not the king, and the prince has no power in Alexandria.”

“You can change that,” said Sanrin,” Not only are you of royal birth, but you have Magick within you. You can bring about a new age where humans live in peace with the Libra, and what’s left of the Lufians. Your friend is a witch, is she not?”

Lucas nodded.

“Do it for her, then. For the children she will someday bear, and for what remains of my people. I ask you on behalf of the Libra and the people of the Green Word: change this continent. We are secluded from the Eastern Continent by impassible storms, and on the west are only rocky crags that no ship can manuever. To the north is endless mist, and to the south are waters from whence no has returned. All that the humans, the Libra, and the Lufians have, is this continent. If we all continue to kill one another, eventually there will be no one left to rule.”

“A lot of Libra would disagree with what you’re saying,” said Ioan with his arms crossed and a look of defiance in his eyes. “Many Libra want revenge.”

“And revenge will do nothing but spill more blood into the soil, and the trees will grow with the hatred of the dead running through their roots,” said Sanrin.

Ioan rolled his eyes, “Always waxing philosophical, you. But I agree anyway. There’s nothing that another war would accomplish. The Libra couldn’t win it anyway.”

“But there are many who want another war,” said Sanrin to Lucas, “As Ioan has said, many of my people thirst for vengeance. In time, their thirst can be replaced with a longing for peace, and it is my duty to change their minds, not yours. But you have a far heavier task: to change the minds of the humans.”

“I was never appointed for any task,” said Lucas, “I’m not some hero destined to change humanity.”

“I believe that you are something of the sort,” said Sanrin, “The gods saw fit to give you the gift of Magick, among all people. And your power is far greater than any Lufian witch, or any Libra sorcerer, few in number though they both may be.”

“My Magick is something that none of us understand,” said Lucas, “The fire listens to my call, but I dont’ have infinite power. I can’t change the whole world alone, even if I wanted to.” He paused, “And I don’t,” he finished.

Sanrin lowered his head, “Then perhaps it was a waste to show you this sacred place.”

Lucas reached out a hand and touched Sanrin’s shoulder. This felt like a bold move to him, and Sanrin flinched slightly, even Ioan raised his eyebrows. “It’s not that I don’t want to help,” said Lucas, “It’s just that I don’t think I can.”

Sanrin smiled gently. “You are young, and small, and weak,” he said.

Lucas felt his stomach drop.

“But,” Sanrin continued, “You will not always be young, not always so small, and not always so weak. You have gathered around you a remarkable number of wanderers and castaways. Bronwen is a ferocious warrior, Imogen is perhaps the last of all her people, and your friends from Alexandria are brave young men. Even Ioan has taken a liking to you, and he doesn’t like many people.”

“Hey!” Ioan interjected, seeming somewhat embarrassed.

Sanrin grinned a little more and shook his head, then placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder, “Little human, right now you are afraid. You are overwhelmed, and believe me when I say that I know the idea of leading anyone is overwhelming. You are troubled, and you want only to find your own happiness. But you have been given an opportunity, and it is the opportunity more than the gift of Magick that is truly your blessing. You may yet find that you have the power to change things. The Angelist Church is a mammoth creature, and it has many horns and teeth. One man alone cannot fight it, nor even an army, as we’ve seen. But given the right circumstance, someone may be able to destroy the beast from within.”

“How?” asked Lucas.

Sanrin removed his hand and placed a clawed finger to his chin, thinking. “I suppose, if I were in your position, I might allow the beast to swallow me, and then drive my claws into it’s heart.”

“And what does THAT mean?” Ioan asked petulantly.

“Augustine is a holy city,” said Sanrin, “But it isn’t ruled by clergyman or priests or nuns, it’s ruled by an IDEA. Angelism is a concept. Bring down the people’s faith, and you bring down the church. Without the church, Alexandria is one lone nation with no faith to strengthen it’s army, and Elliot Varner is an unelected ruler who waits to be deposed by revolution.”

“That’s a pretty lofty goal,” said Lucas.

“I cannot say how it will go,” said Sanrin, “But I believe you and your allies have the potential to change everything. Think on what you’ve seen and heard here, and remember it during your travels. I have offered what wisdom I can, and now your choice is your own. We all must make our own choices,” Sanrin glanced at Ioan as he uttered the final sentence.

Ioan shook his head.

Sanrin turned and walked past Lucas, back the way they came. “Stay here for a while,” he said, “Both of you. I want the two of you to think about where you’ve been, and where you will go. Go down into the Holy Place and let the spirits of the Libra give you their wisdom. I will wait for you at the entrance. Think, while you have leisure to do it, and rest your spirits. This is a place of rest and thoughtfulness, use it to your advantage.”

Sanrin walked off down the trail, and left Lucas standing alone with Ioan. Lucas glanced at Ioan, and

Ioan just shrugged. Without a word, they set off down the steep path into the valley, into the Holy Place, into the mass grave of the Libra.