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It’s been a while since I’ve published anything here. I’ve been busy, with life and with finishing my story, as well as updating the official website, sage-eyes.com. In order to consolidate, I’m moving this blog over there. It has a lot of information about the book I’m writing and about me. I will still be coming up with blog posts, hopefully with more frequency, and hope you check it out and comment!  Also, my book has a trailer, take a look!

Hope to see you at sage-eyes.com! Thanks for everything!

 

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One of the staples of many fantasy books is the way they can play with government and politics. Fantasies of epic scope have to involve the government somehow, even if the hero has nothing to do with it. Other fantasies focus on the more private aspect of the lives of leaders like kings and princes. At the very least, every fantasy world should have some sort of government set up. Many good stories will show how the government would react to events that are happening in the story. We can’t expect a government to leave its people alone, now can we?
The default government for fantasy stories is a monarchy. Why? Because of King Arthur and Lord of the Rings. These stories and others that came after have influenced generations of writers and movie makers. Because of them, fantasy is usually set with a medieval government, the king at the top, followed by other nobility. This can make interesting dynamics, as corruption can easily be explored, or the king could be a hero that saves everyone. But it’s not the only form of government a fantasy story can take.

Types of government
Monarchy is where there is one ruler. King, queen, emperor, patriarch, matriarch, high prince, they’re all titles for the head honcho. Other titles can apply, like president or prime minister, even if we don’t usually associate them with monarchy. It just depends on how powerful you make them. Dictators are usually monarchs. Generally, though, it’s the king. He might have pretty much unlimited power and can do whatever he feels like, or he might be limited by previous laws or customs, or he might even be a figurehead. Often hereditary. The difference between a kingdom and an empire is that an empire is not limited to a single geographic area. They usually acquire land through invasion and conquest. Story ideas for this can include rebelling against a tyrant or a good king sacrificing for his kingdom.
Aristocracy or oligarchy is where there are several high ranking people working. Supposedly they are the best at what they do, but in practice, it usually stays within family. So the noble class runs things, instead of a king. This is a good venue for commenting on the waste and debauchery of the super rich, or showing how educated leaders might make a change in the world.
Democracy is rule by the people. Athens was one of the first to practice it. Today, pure democracy isn’t practiced. Representational democracy is the current form. This type of democracy is where we vote for people to represent us in the government, at all levels, from mayor to governor to congressman to president. This was put in place and used because it is impossible for the population to get together all the time to debate and vote on issues. Ironically, we now live in an era where we could have a direct say in governing the country, through the internet, but no one is even mentioning the idea, and if they did, it would be fought against, to keep the status quo. Just as well, as trolls would take over the world. Democracy is rarely used in fantasy, especially medieval style fantasy, but it could be interesting.
Theocracy is rule from deity. In practice, it is rule of a religion. In fantasy, it could be an actual deity ruling. Although that would beg the question as to how to define a deity. A super powerful mage? A representation of a force of nature? The creator of the universe?
Other possible types of government could be rule of corporations, rule of bureaucracies, rule of machines, rule of another race. Pretty much anything is possible.

Issues
Politics isn’t just about the type of government. It’s about the laws and social issues of the time and place. You can take positions on modern issues, boil them down to their timeless essence, and comment on them safely in fantasy while not actually talking about the issue itself. Example: gay marriage. Controversial subject right now. A whole story could be about gay marriage without having any gay characters. How? You could take the gay marriage debate as being about a minority being discriminated by the majority. The story could be about a small tribe trying to preserve its traditions and wanting to be accepted, but in the big city they are looked upon as strange or evil. That way, it is more universal than just pertaining to gays. Or you could take the other side, and talk about how a society that becomes too morally permissive will open itself to internal enemies that will cause its collapse, or having people practicing dark arts that end up controlling and consuming them. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo had to fight his addiction to the ring, and in the end, he couldn’t cast it off without help.

Court intrigue
A lot of people enjoy the medieval setting because of the intrigues that can go on between the nobility. Alliances can be made or broken through marriages or secret trysts, power obtained through assassinations or blackmail. Everyone presents a face of unity, but underneath that they are plotting, refusing to trust each other. Everyone is cheating on their spouse, but only the person exposed causes a scandal. A Game of Thrones is famous for this type of politicking. Now, this can obviously be transferred to other settings. Modern day senators can be bought with lobbying, affairs can ruin a political career, and lies are made to secure the votes. Or even more appealing for many, the gossip of celebrities: Justin Bieber broke up, Miley Cyrus has weird hair, Angelina Jolie got a double mastectomy, etc. They serve more as the noble class in our society than the actual government. The people that are supposedly worshipped, but have many admirers who are also jealous and would love to see them fall. Fantasy is a perfect venue for that, especially where power is split up and a fragile balance is the only thing that stops people from going to war.
Finally, stories can be used to express political opinions that would get you reprimanded at work for discussing, or get you into arguments with friends. Religion, politics, nothing’s taboo for writing, especially fantasy. Plus, it can be entertaining.

I ate my breakfast, chewing more on my thoughts than my porridge. My mother watched me nervously, and whenever I glanced at her, she looked away. I would need to cover up my arm if I left the house. Too many questions would be bad.

In my room, dressing myself, I thought about Lancithar. He had told me that during the night soothing, I would be enlightened. I didn’t feel enlightened. Maybe the other night angels skipped over me because they didn’t want to teach me any magic. There were others, right? They sounded lazy.

Or maybe this was a test. Maybe they didn’t heal me because I could heal myself. That was the point of giving me magic, right? I wasn’t sure; I hadn’t understood it all. But I could try.

Staring at my scar, I pointed at it with my other hand. “Heal!” I whispered in frustration. Nothing happened.

“Go away!”

“Kazaam!”

“Pretty please, just go away!”

It didn’t seem like talking to my scar was going to heal it. Feeling stupid, I tried meditating. Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, I started focusing on the scar, and nothing else. It felt ridiculous, but I kept at it. After all, it couldn’t be more absurd than a man appearing out of the shadows and giving me magic powers, or being healed every night. I wondered why we never questioned how it happened; we just expected it to happen. It was natural.

I started to remember fragments of my dreams last night. I saw Lancithar’s face, and two others. Then I was looking through their eyes at my body, so frail and young. Ugly in comparison to theirs. They looked down at the scar, looked into it. I saw that there was a difference between the light bouncing off my body, and the colorless fibers that truly made up my body. The fibers had been severed, but it didn’t go down deep. My body was already working on healing them. That was surprising, as I didn’t know my body could heal itself, aside from closing up after bleeding. Was it because of the magic, or did every body heal itself?

Yes, my body was being repaired, but it went oh so slow. It would be days, weeks, before the scar became invisible. I couldn’t wait that long. Surely it could be sped up. What if the blood only brought back the what could help replenish the body, instead of a little of everything? What if I could control that? I hadn’t even realized that that was what blood was for. I thought it was a punishment when someone was hurt or fighting.

Somehow, my will started influencing my blood. I couldn’t actually see it, but the area around my scar started heating up, and I could feel the blood rushing. My heart pounded faster and harder. It pounded my chest, so hard it almost hurt. Was it supposed to happen this way? This couldn’t be right. My scar became tender, the edges burning. I started to become light headed, and it became a chore to focus on the scar. I sat down on my bed, holding my head up with my other arm.

Somewhere in my mind, the thought came that this had to wrong, since I doubted this happened every night to everyone. The soothings must go much smoother. Sweat formed on my forehead. But something seemed to happen. My scar started to flake off, without blood flowing out to replace it. I peeked and saw pink skin forming.

Suddenly I realized I had done magic. Magic!

I fainted.

A hesitant knock on the door woke me up. My first reaction was to cover up the scar, but I realized it wasn’t there. Nearly fainting again, I whispered in response, then cleared my throat.

“Come in,” I said, allowing my former scar to show. Or not show.

My mother came in, a worried look on her face. Her eyes went straight to where my scar had been. A look of relief blossomed on her face. Then one of confusion.

“Didn’t you have a scar…?”

I looked at my arm, pretending to be surprised. “Oh, look, it’s gone. It must have been slow in disappearing this morning.”

“Yes, that must be it,” she murmured. Forcing a smile, she continued, “I want you to help pick some weeds in the garden today. No more going off to the forest edge, at least not today.”

I couldn’t believe it. No one would see me in the garden. She didn’t want anyone to think I was different. She obviously had come up with this before seeing my healed arm. So why did she want to hide me now?

Barely containing myself, I nodded slowly. She frowned, seeing my recognition of what she was trying, and left fairly quickly. I unclenched my fists and wiped the sweat off my forehead. I would obey her. If I didn’t, she would find out faster than a frog’s tongue catching a fly. There are few secrets in the village.

Besides, it would give me time to practice my magic.

I wore my old dress for the garden work, kneeling down in the dirt. People passed me, some waving hello, many pretending to ignore me. Those felt bad for me. Most knew I wanted to be at the edge of the forest. I was too busy for most of them.

The thought that burned in my mind was how to make myself more attractive. For Michael. My mother said I had a pretty face and a good figure, but I had seen my reflection. I might not be ugly, but neither was I all that pretty. My nose a bit too big, my eyes too far apart, my lips too thin. I wished I were thinner, as well. My mother tried to allay my fears, my father thought I was foolish for even thinking this way, but they’re my parents; of course they thought I was pretty.

Trying to regain the sense of myself I had when healing, I held still, focusing. The more I tried, though, it seemed the harder to grasp. It was there, taunting me, hiding just outside of my field of vision. It was frustrating. How had I done it before?

After about a quarter hour, I gave up. My eyes felt strained, even though I hadn’t been looking at anything in particular. I started to actually pick the weeds. If I sat down the whole time and didn’t have weeds to show at the end, my mother would be just as furious as if I had gone to the forest. Reluctantly, I started grabbing the weeds.

After picking out a few, the thought came to me that if the Night Angels healed others, then they must have powers over other people. Or objects. Could I do anything with the weeds I held? Make them flowers?

It was probably easier to change a living weed to a flower than a dead one. Besides, it wouldn’t do me any good if my mother saw a bunch of dead flowers with the weeds. So I chose a weed that didn’t look too ugly, a dandelion with its yellow petals still out, not gone to seed yet. I focused on it, imagining it was a yellow white rose instead. I tried to imagine the steps it would have to change, the petals extending and growing wider and upwards. The leaves would be smoother, the stalk higher. I poured my will into changing it. The dandelion wavered a bit.

I think it was the wind.

Breathing out in frustration, I pulled out the weed in vengeance. What was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I change anything? What good was my magic? I flopped down on my back, looking up at the sky.

The clouds floated by. One group looked almost like a face. It reminded me of one time when I was a little girl. I had been looking at my reflection in the water when some leaves floated through it. It passed over my reflection’s chin, making it look like I had a beard. I giggled, wishing there was some way to capture the moment and share it with my dad.

Then it hit me. I hadn’t worn a beard then, but my reflection had. A bystander, not looking at me, might think I did have a beard. Well, if he had bad vision. Like my grandpapa. Maybe I couldn’t change my body, at least not yet. But I could make myself appear different to other people. Isn’t that what makeup was for?

Was there some way to change the way people saw me, without actually changing me? Perhaps not the ideal solution, but better than waiting for years while I try to figure out this magic thing and let Michael slip away. I had already alienated him. Lily would be able to pluck him like a rose if I did nothing.

Concentrating on the appearance of the dandelion, I willed it to bloom in the light. A few minutes passed without any success. I kept telling myself that I had healed myself, I could do this. Tired, I was ready to stop and turn away. As I moved my head, out of the corner of my eye, the dandelion seemed to transform. Quickly, I looked back, but it was still just a dandelion.

I moved to go again, and the same thing happened. I looked at it and it went back to being normal, but this time it took longer. There was definitely something going on.

Breathing out, I stopped concentrating on it so hard, but still held the image of how I wanted it to look like in the back of my mind. Slowly, oh so slowly, the dandelion was overlaid with the image of a marigold. At first it appeared like the reflection of clouds on water, and I could still see the dandelion beneath, but the more I focused without focusing, the more it solidified. Soon enough, there was no trace of the dandelion.

I propped my chin on my hands and stared at it, smiling. The illusion didn’t give. I even touched it. I could feel the marigold beneath, but the marigold didn’t ripple away, as I feared.

A few moments later, my mother came out and found me looking at it. “Really, Eva, you need to…When did we get a marigold?”

I suppressed my smile. It wasn’t just me imagining things. My mother saw it as well. “I just found it here, it must have sprung up recently.”

“That’s strange, I don’t remember seeing it. Anyway, Eva, you should get back to work.” Her voice trembled a bit. I felt a pang of guilt. In some way, I was shattering my mother’s reality. Like a glass breaking, but much slower. I don’t know if telling her what happened would fix things or would accelerate the cracking.

I went back to picking the weeds. Or at least my body did. My mind was busy crafting my new face and body. I couldn’t implement it yet, but would try before talking to Michael. It had to look like me, but be better. Picturing myself was difficult, but I managed to bring up my face in my mind. I glanced at the marigold. Still there.

About a quarter hour after changing the dandelion, I had come up with most of the details for how to change my face. I looked back at the marigold. But there was none. It was back to being a dandelion. I started to panic. I would need more time than that for things to work with Michael. We would just barely be saying hello. I willed the dandelion to turn back. Strangely enough, it did, although I felt some energy draining from me. Still, it was a relief. I would be able to renew this transformation. I just had to time it right.

Finally, I finished my punishment for waking up with a scar. The only weed left looked like a real flower. My mother reluctantly let me have some free time. Before letting me go, though, she gave me a hug. It felt kind of strange, after what had been going on. Almost like an apology. Until I felt her hand subtly feeling my arm, where the scar had been. She was looking to see if I had just put something on to color it the same as my skin. I grew cold and pulled away. She looked down and told me to be back in time for supper.

I went down to the river. It flowed so slowly it was practically still. Kneeling down on an overhang to see my reflection, like I did when I was a child, I saw my face. The face that, until now, I didn’t particularly like, but felt that it was permanent. Now that I knew I could change it, temporarily at first, perhaps permanently later on, I found myself hating every flaw. This ugly face would no longer torment me or prevent me from getting what I wanted.

I had to make sure my face was still recognizable. I wanted Michael to know it was me. So the changes had to be subtle. Clear away the freckles and pimples. That would be simple enough. The size of the nose and lips shouldn’t be too difficult. Changing the position of the eyes would be a bit tricky. Then I would want to change my hair. Make it more voluminous, silky, and luxurious. But part of that would be more mundane than this magic I had: I would wash it with some oils. It would cost some money, but I should be able to gain it back easily enough once I mastered this magic.

I had brought some parchment and a charcoal stick, so I set out drawing what I saw in the river. Although I wasn’t the perfect artist, I had received some praise before. Drawing was always a good way to process my thoughts, in a way that differed from pulling weeds.

While I drew how I looked and how I wanted to look, I idly thought about Miri and Jaz. Should I tell them my secret? Probably. But not yet. The most I had to show for it was a scar that wasn’t there. My new face might be evidence, but the changes were supposed to be so subtle that it wouldn’t look like magic. Besides, I was still trying to process Lancithar. It seemed there were more of these angels, watching over us. That was both breathtaking and creepy at the same time.

Eventually I came up with a sketch of how my new face would look. Staring into the water, I molded my face to look like the sketch. It took a lot more relaxed concentration than the marigold, and longer to get it right. On the first try, my face didn’t even look human. But after an hour or two of sweating concentration, I found something I was happy with, and memorized it so I could become that way quickly. Once I used magic in some way the first time, it was easier to duplicate it the second, but still required effort.

Looking at the sun in the sky, I saw that it wouldn’t be too long before Michael came home from the woods. I would need to look my best. I stopped by the market on the way home and bought the oils, as well as some clothes and a necklace. My mother wasn’t going to be happy when she found out what I’d done.

I got home, hid my illegal items, and ate supper with my mother and brothers. My father would be coming home later, so my mother kept the stew heating on the coals. The supper was quieter than usual, although my brothers jabbered like normal. My mother and I would look at each other until getting caught by the other and looked away quickly. An admission of guilt on both our parts, but no attempt to bridge it by talking. I tried to eat quickly without making myself sick. The nervousness from my mother’s looks and the anticipation of seeing Michael again was twisting my stomach. Good thing I wasn’t suffering from monthly pains.

Finishing my stew, I left with barely a word, shutting myself into my room. I then started the transformation, the mundane first, like the clothing and the hair, and when that was finished, the face. Halfway through, my mother knocked on the door, asking if I was fine. I looked at myself in my little handheld mirror and truthfully told her I was. She left me alone after that.

I had on a red dress with lacy frills. The dress showed more leg than I had expected, but I suppose Michael would not mind. It came with a shawl that looped under my arm and over my shoulder, covering the long neckline.

When done, I hardly recognized myself, not so much for the face as for the clothes and hair. My magic made my lips a sweet red, I had powder highlighting my eyes, and I had a small ribbon in my hair. This was a look only princesses in the stories would wear. And now I had joined their ranks. My mirror showed my looking as red as an apple.

I almost vomited with uneasiness.

Slipping out the window, so my mother wouldn’t see me, I looked at the sky. Red dusk. Michael would be stretching his muscles walking home after working all day. He’ll have just eaten. Now I just needed to find him.

Heroics Cover

The cover image for the short story Heroics

In my last post, I talked briefly about worldbuilding in general. There is so much involved that no one post can cover it all. But I did mention one thing I would like to expound on. I talked about how video games benefitted in the early days because of their limitations, as far as creativity goes. As for me personally, by the way, I was a big gamer when I was younger, but am starting to lose interest now. There could be several reasons for this: I’m getting older, more mature; I can face my problems instead of turning to video games to numb my problems; I don’t have as much free time, etc. But one thing is that they don’t interest me as much. They are all starting to look the same, losing creativity. Not to offend anyone, but first person shooters all appear to have the same game mechanics; sports games seem to be depersonalized, focusing on a team instead of a player; and rpgs, especially online ones, are full of petty quests where you have to defeat a certain monster or fetch a certain object. I want a game with more substance, or at least something I can enjoy playing. But the games I’ve played recently start to blend together, and seem more formulaic than creative. I worry that now with the current graphics, the big teams, the long standing series, the video game industry overall, with some exceptions, has lost the ingenuity that earlier games had, because they can make pretty much whatever game they want.

Limitations make things better, despite the counterintuitive reasoning there. For example, I am a graphic designer. If I have a project that was completely open ended, I would have no idea where to start. But if given strict parameters (I want this logo in this color, to represent this, etc), within reason, I find myself testing the limits, trying to get around something, or taking one of the requirements, fulfilling it, but doing it in an unexpected way. Creativity comes when getting somewhere after funneling through a small opening, not when floating around in the air with no direction. Taking this example further, when someone decorates a cake with frosting, in order to get the intricate designs of flowers or whatever else is wanted, the frosting is squeezed through a narrow tube in a specific way. If it was slopped on, it would never become so pretty. Graphical limitations for early video games forced developers to come up with new ideas. Now, that might not be so true.

Many people complain that a movie based off a book is not as good as the book, especially if they read the book first. Why? A movie is similar to how we experience things in real life, as spectators. We see things, we hear things. We try to read minds, but the closest we get is reading expressions. Books, however, are just a bunch of words printed on a page (or tablet). There is no direct visual representation, nor audio. The scene is broken down into imperfect words and conveyed to the reader through language, a purely abstract form. The reader has the responsibility of reassembling those words into a mental picture and playing it out in the mind, with visuals, audio, even smell, touch, and taste. But none of that is driect, it has to go through brain filters. That’s a lot of work, and there are many limitations to language. So why do people curl up with a good book? While not true of all, there are many great works of art that come from books and words. The bible, Shakespeare, Swift, and many others have changed the world with their writings. Video games, nor even movies, have not yet achieved such a high status.

As far as worldbuilding goes, limitations are important as well. Take fantasy. Magic can be powerful, but it can’t be all powerful. There needs to be limits. If not, either the villain would take over everything, or would be stopped easily by the hero. Limit what magic can do, and be consistent with it, even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what the limits are at first. The limits can inform about the magic. Example: Magic in one world can only be cast in daylight. Why? Because magic comes from the sun. Humans on this world have adapted to use the sunlight to perform tasks humans on other worlds wouldn’t have been able to. What story elements can come from this? A powerful sorcerer becomes just like everyone else at night, easily assassinated. There could be a group of nomads who are trying to travel as fast as their world spins, so they never taste the sunset. Space travel could be a goal, to escape the dark side of the planet and have unlimited magic. Giving a story some limits makes it more interesting.

Science fiction benefits from this too. Pretty much every technology ever created has its tradeoffs. New York streets used to be covered in horse poop until the automobile came out. Now the streets are safe to step on, but there are more people killed by accidents and the air is polluted. Each new technology has a bigger impact on the environment. What would the fuel for a sublightspeed space ship cost? Recently I saw Jurassic Park, and they talk about the unintended consequences of using science that we don’t fully understand. Having a moral issue that makes using a new technology suspect makes for a more interesting story than just having some scientists discover something and congratulate themselves.

Creating artificial boundaries can improve not only the world, but can be useful in writing exercises or creating a unique writing style. In the end, the boundaries don’t limit a story, but give it more focus.

ImageWorld building
One of the most important parts of any story is the setting. A book set in modern New York should feel a lot different than ancient China. A movie set in South Africa should look a lot different than one set on Coruscant. Middle Earth, while based somewhat on medieval Europe, is still much different than Europe was. Our world helps define us, culturally and individually. Living in freezing Russia will make a different person out of you than sunny Hawaii. Making a work of fiction based in the real world needs to have some accurate details and feel of what the setting it based from, otherwise it will feel fake. This can take a lot of research, which can be hard to make sure there is no mistakes. Fantasy and science fiction writers have a different, but just as hard, challenge, in creating a world for the setting. Making up a world, whether an alternate earth or a different planet, is called world building. There are different levels of world building. Some use settings that haven’t been thought through very well, or a generic setting, like a pseudo-medieval setting so commonly used in fantasy. Others make changes to their worlds, making it something foreign to us. Science fiction often does this, with worlds covered in volcanos or with lower gravity. Unfortunately, many of these don’t follow through. If you make a world significantly different than ours, especially in science fiction, which should be based somewhat in science. One interesting book, What if the Earth had Two Moons? is a good reference for scientifically based worlds. It also makes you realize that little changes in one thing would make big changes on the world’s lifeforms. So the more foreign the world, the more needs to be taken into account. The best worlds built take elements of our world, make some changes, and explore those changes to their logical end. One of the best examples I’ve seen is The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. His world, among other things, has terrible storms that often thrash the world. The plant life there has adapted to these storms, able to retract into the ground when the storms pass by. But in an area where the storms don’t hit, blocked by mountains, grass grows normally. The details of this world are consistent and make sense.
One place where worlds need to be created completely from scratch, even if based on our world, is in video games. The programmers usually can’t rely on vague words to represent their world; it needs to be programmed down to each detail. They need to make it consistent and follow the internal rules. Often, realism isn’t the main objective, so any rules can be applied, as long as they stay consistent. Strange settings are most accepted in video games than any other medium: books, movies, and TV, all are held to a higher standard of realism than video games, which allows developers to be truly creative. Part of this came from the technical limitations of early games. Why could Mario only go around in two dimensions? Why couldn’t he walk around the bottomless pits instead of jumping over them? We all know it was because the graphic capabilities for 3D weren’t available. These limitations influenced the later games that were in 3D, and made them something that wouldn’t have existed without it. Where else can you find an italian plumber, created by Japanese programmers, who runs and jumps in a 2D world, eats mushrooms to grow, shrinks or dies when someone touches him, jumps on walking mushrooms and turtles to flatten them, throws said turtle shells that act like hockey pucks, travels through big green pipes that sometimes are home to giant mandating plants, and can kill enemies by shooting fireballs after eating a flower, always jumping over bottomless pits and breaking bricks with his head, and sometimes calling in his brother to help rescue the princess who was kidnapped by a giant turtle with hair and spikes? You won’t find that in any movie (an attempt was made to bring this world to the big screen, but tried to use other logic, like evolution and dinosaurs and everything. If you haven’t seen it, consider yourself blessed).
Basically, as far as world building goes, the details, well thought out, are the most important. But the world needs to be built up naturally. Infodumping at the beginning of any story is a big turn off, especially if the main characters are citizens of that world, since anything different that happens will seem as natural to them as nature appears to us. Little explanations over the course of the story can build up a world in the audience’s mind better than a big explanation at the beginning. There are many aspects of creating a world, from the physical environment to the cultural divides. It all needs to be thought through, but probably the best part to begin is the physical environment as cultures will be formed in reaction to it. I’ll probably talk more on some of these aspects in later posts. Remember, there’s almost nothing more interesting than a well realized world that affects everything in the story.

Checking the back of my head for bruises to make sure I didn’t have a concussion and hadn’t dreamt it all, I crunched through the leaves on the forest floor. I obviously didn’t travel like the night angels, silently, because once I got to the edge of the forest, I heard someone call out, “Eval, is that you?”

Who called me that? I heard someone coming closer; hoped it was Michael, but was disappointed. “Ethan?”

His silhouette turned into a recognizable form. It reminded me of the night angel. He looked tired from cutting, but smiled when he saw me. “Michael told me he saw you running towards the woods, but no one saw you here. What were you doing out there?”

I wanted to tell him, anyone, what had happened. But it seemed so strange, I had no idea where to begin. I needed to think about this first. Someone I could trust more, like my mother.

“I was dancing with the shadows,” I said, purposely being mysterious.

“Do they make good partners?” he asked.

I hadn’t expected him to respond like that. I smiled slightly. “I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe you should try it. Then you can tell me.”

“I’ll have to do that someday.”

“By the way, my name’s Evaling, not Eval,” I told him. Ethan just smiled. “Is Michael nearby?”

Ethan pointed to his left, not saying anything. I followed the path of his finger, waving goodbye. He waved slightly, then went back to work, exhaling a lot of air. Poor thing, he must be tired.

I crossed the border of forest and village. Several men were working nearby. A few looked up to see me, but didn’t pay much attention. Then I saw Michael. His muscled bulged as he brought the axe down from above his head, falling faster than an apple from a tree. He was splitting wood, not actually cutting down trees at the moment. He looked up and saw me. I waved timidly.

We both walked toward each other. I wished I knew how to make myself look pretty. I felt so plain. Michael must be comparing me to Lily right now. Why hadn’t Lancithar taught me anything? I felt my face reddening against my will. Traitorous face.

“What happened this morning?” Michael asked.

Why had I come? I should have hidden myself from his beautiful face forever. “Sorry for my behavior. There was something in the woods I had to explore.”

He looked confused. I couldn’t blame him. “In the woods? What’s out there?”

A beautiful man, more so than you, but don’t worry, I still love you. This strange man who disappears in the shadows says he wants to give me magic and take away the night soothings. “An apple.”

“An…apple?”

Poor, poor man. “An apple tree. The apples taste best at dawn. I wanted to get there before they lost their taste.”

Michael must have figured out that he saw me after dawn, but decided not to say anything about that. “Is everything all right?”

No. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“Do you want to take a walk?”

I stopped. Did I understand what he was saying? “Yes?”

“Let’s go, then.” He took my hand and almost had to drag me, I was so shocked.

We walked into the woods, and I faintly heard some men whistling behind us. I had been spending a lot of time out here lately. Nor could I help but try to look for Lancithar some more, but I tried to be discreet about it. At first, we didn’t say anything. It felt nice to have his hand covering mine.

“Where’s this apple tree of yours?” Michael asked after a few moments.

“Oh, I couldn’t find it from here,” I lied. I didn’t want to go back right now.

He looked like he wanted to say something more, but didn’t know what to say. We were silent a few more minutes. Then I had to go and ruin it. I knew it was a bad thing to say before I did, but I couldn’t help myself. “What do you think of Lily?”

He let go of my hand and blushed red. “She’s…nice.”

“Just nice?” I asked. Why did I torture myself?

“What do you want me to say?”

“What you think.”

“I don’t think anything about her.”

Stop, Evaling. Stop it. “Surely you have some opinion of her?”

“Look, Eva, you’re not my girlfriend, so I don’t feel I have to answer to you whether I think a girl is pretty or not.” He stopped after that, looking uncomfortable but also fuming a bit.

What had I done? Now he would never want to be with me. What had I been thinking? I had basically chased him off to Lily. I felt really awkward, and felt my cheeks turning red. It was not supposed to turn out this way. I turned my head away from him in shame. But that wasn’t enough. So I ran.

“Eva…” Michael said, but didn’t chase after me. That cemented my belief that I had committed an irreparable mistake. I just kept running, wiping tears from my eyes, wanting to escape, but thinking about what he would be thinking about me. A branch reached out and snagged my arm, drawing blood, but I just kept running.

A few moments later I burst out of the forest. I tried to avoid the men, but some of them turned their heads in my direction. I could hear the gossip working in their minds. Lily was there as well, and when I glanced at her, she smiled slightly. She knew what happened, and she was enjoying my pain.

I ran home, to find my mother chasing my brothers, an exasperated smile on her face. When I came in, though, she sensed right away that something was wrong. She took me to my room and asked what was wrong. I told her everything. About Michael. I wasn’t sure what to say about the man in the forest. It felt more like a dream, and I was more concerned about Michael now than some promise of magical powers.

My mother took me into her arms and rocked me back and forth, whispering things into my ear that didn’t really make sense, but that didn’t matter. My tears wet her blouse. Eventually I calmed down.

It was nearing evening; I had been working, doing chores, when a knock sounded on the door. At first I thought it was my father, since he usually came home around this time, but as I opened the door, being the closest to it, I found someone else entirely.

At first I thought it was Michael. Our house faces the west and the sun was getting low, so the figure was backlit by the sun. I held my breath, but when I saw who it really was, I exhaled.

“Ethan?”

“Hi Eval…ing,” he stuttered. He was looking at his feet.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I saw you run out the forest crying, and wanted to make sure everything was all right.”

“That was hours ago.”

He looked at me and gave an apologetic smile. “I know, but I couldn’t get off until now.”

I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling all that charitable at the moment. “Well, thanks for checking up on me. I’m fine.”

“Why were you crying? What happened in the forest?”

I was not going to share my innermost feelings of love and turmoil with him. So I answered the second question. Even though it was the part that happened before everything with Michael. “I found a night angel who gave me magic powers.”

“Huh?”

“Thanks for coming by, I’ll see you around.”

“Wait, why would getting magic powers make you cry?”

Was he taking me seriously? I almost rolled my eyes. Until I remembered I was speaking the truth. “Because I don’t know how to use them.”

“That would be a problem,” Ethan said, nodding sagely.

This conversation was ridiculous. I laughed, and softened a bit. “Really, thanks for your concern. But I’m all right. I’m a big girl.”

“Yes, I’m sure you can take care of yourself. Are you coming to pass out soup tomorrow?”

Inwardly, I blanched. The wounds with Michael surfaced again. “Are you still cutting down trees? Haven’t you cut down enough?”

“The trees…they don’t like being cut down.” Either he was making fun of me, or he was the person most likely to believe what I witnessed. But I had no proof. I didn’t feel ready to share my experience with anyone yet, though.

“Yeah, they do seem kind of sad.” We stood there for a few moments.

“Well, you should go to bed, Eval. Maybe the soothing will heal your pain.”

“I didn’t say I was in pain,” I said, a bit harshly.

“I…I just meant your scar,” he said, pointing to my arm. I had forgotten about that. I doubt that had been what he was referring to, but I let it drop. I gave him a weak smile.

“Sleep well yourself,” I said. “May the night angels bless you.” I don’t know why I said that.

We waved goodbye, each a little sad. I walked into the house. My mother and brothers were staring at me. I walked past them to my room without acknowledging them or their need for gossip. As I lay down after changing, I rolled over to one side, but winced when I felt the pain of the scar from the branch. It had not healed well. The injury was early enough in the day that it had festered a bit. Oh well, tomorrow it would be gone. Rolling over to my other side, I tried to go to sleep, to forget about the events of this day. It would be better if it had not happened.

Unfortunately, too many thoughts rushed through my mind, all blurring together. Letting go was no easy task. I heard my father come in and speak with my mother before I drifted off to an uneasy sleep. Michael became the night angel, but he cursed me with magic instead of blessing me. Ethan and Michael fought, but then they turned on me. The trees sang wailing songs. The apple’s two bites became eyes that stared at me. Three beings looked down on me, judging me. They argued among themselves, shifting into my parents. The stars told stories, gossiping.

Finally, night became morn, but when I woke up, I felt I hadn’t slept at all. I was still worn out. Forcing myself out of bed, I felt pain in my arm, but was too groggy to think much of it. Unsuccessfully trying to comb my hair with my fingers, I stood up and walked out of my room.

My mother was cooking eggs for my brothers, who were bouncing in their chairs. She gave me a cursory glance and then looked again, nearly dropping the pan. “Eva…”

I saw where she was looking, and it wasn’t at my face. It was at my arm. The one that had been hurt yesterday. That was still scarred. I hadn’t been healed. Seeing the panic on my mother’s face, the fear, I started feeling it too. Why hadn’t I been healed? Was I not worthy anymore?

Then I remembered Lancithar telling me that the night soothings would stop. Was it only for me, or would it stop for everyone? Did it stop last night? I looked at my brothers. They were clean and unbruised. So they must have been healed, because they never go a day without minor injuries. Did this only apply to me?

“Did you hurt yourself this morning, Eva?” My brothers looked between my mother and me. She was looking at me like I didn’t have a shadow. I could see in her eyes that she wanted me to lie. She saw the scar yesterday; she knew it was highly improbable I could duplicate it in my room. But she didn’t want to think through the implications.

“Yeah, that must have been it,” I said numbly. My brothers went back to eating their porridge, uninterested now.

Even if my mom refused, I started thinking about what this would mean. As far as I knew, no one was ever denied the soothing. It was as natural as the sun itself. Would people think I had been cursed if they knew? How would they treat me?

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