GUIZ! My computer is home!

Gah! My computer is finally home, and no longer looks like it ever lit on fire!

So, y’know, that’s really exciting.

I missed it turribly.

In other news, while it was down for the count, I had an idea for a short story/novella in the Changeling universe. I started writing it by hand, which is a battle and a half, so now that I have a computer again, it’ll be typed up and glorious. It was inspired by the fact that I’m editing Changeling right now, and I realized a new character had no choice but to be added to the timeline before the novel begins.

So this short story/novella is going to be about said character and their relationship with the others we already know and love.

That’s sort of the biggest update on my life. Once I’m settled in and up to date with my beloved, I’ll do a proper entry.

 

😀

Whoops

Sorry for the lack of updates for the past few weeks. My better half came home from a month away working, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied with seeing him as of late.

The other day I was walking around at work, as I do, and I was struck with inspiration work seems to be the best place to find inspiration – I wonder why that is. I’ve wanted for a while now to expand on the First Men in the world of Changeling – the ancients to the people of modern Cyril who are like the Romans to us. Ruins of their civilization dot the countryside, and modern culture and government is built on their foundation. So I came up with a bit of a plan. I might write a novel (once I power through all the other work I have to do with WIPs) about one of the last kings of the First Men. It’s going to be brutal and bloody, because it will be set in the peak of their conquering. I’m pretty excited about it, myself. The past is always fascinating.

I’m also going to write another collection of short stories to go between Changeling and Abomination, as a partner anthology to The Time Between. The current working title is Paint Them All Red. It will take place in Canton during the Reclamation, when Sophia Henson conquered the country after the death of her father. So I’m pretty excited about that too.

Anyhow. That’s basically a brief update from my end. How’s everything else going in the interwebz?

Controlled, by Elisa Nuckle

My pal Elisa Nuckle has written an amazing short story for Fiction Vortex. It’s called Controlled, and it’s about dragons.

Not only is that badass already, but after having aforementioned short story published with Fiction Vortex, she won their July contest by a landslide. So that’s kind of a big deal.

So, hey, maybe go read Controlled, because you’re awesome and it’s awesome and together you’ll just be perfect.

New short story: Pathos

Everyone! Go check out Pathos, a short story by my friend Elisa Nuckle. It’s a story that questions the meaning of existence through virtual reality; it’s a path society is heading toward already through technology addiction. It’s a dystopian future that makes you think, and it’s only $0.99, so it’s affordable for such an interesting read. Do it!

Inspiration: where do you find yours?

Whether you’re a writer of novels or short stories, or a visual artist, everyone finds inspiration somewhere. For me, it depends on what I’m writing at the time. Back in the day when I was writing Purity (and I suppose again soon, as I intend to actually finally finish one of these days) I’d listen to darker music, lots of industrial stuff, and watch vampire movies. There was also one particular story I found that was great for inspiring me to write from the main male character’s perspective – it was, oddly enough, an Inuyasha fanfiction, but the way the author wrote Sesshomaru was similar to how I wrote Fane, and it unfailingly, each time I read it, made me want to write so I should probably get to reading it again one of these days, eh?

But for the things I currently write, like OtArb et al and Changeling, which are both deeply entrenched in fantasy – both worlds, religions, histories, etc, were all created solely by me – it’s easier to find inspiration, since this is more my area of expertise. I’ve torrented the epic soundtracks/scores of the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, IV: Oblivion, and V: Skyrim, and Assassins Creed II, the Hunger Games, Tron: Legacy, and Fable. I’ve also got a few songs from the soundtrack of all six Star Wars movies, and I’m planning on getting some Lord of the Rings tracks. These are excellent, because I separated each song into a different folder, according to their tone. The game music is especially good for this, because obvious fighting songs that play during fights, go into the fighting folder in iTunes. Related to this is games – I play a lot of games, so their universes help me fine-tune mine, and give me ideas how to better describe settings, especially when I’m just frolicking about the countryside.

I also do a lot of these things simultaneously. Before I got my Asus gaming PC – my predator drone – I’d sit with Lappy, my old laptop, and have my writing open while I played xbox games. Now, since everything I do is just on the predator drone, I’ll have iTunes open, headphones on, then write a bit, switch over to Skyrim, play a bit, then return to my main desktop, etc. And sometimes I’ll even have a movie on in the background. I like to waste electricity, is what I’m getting at here.

It works well for me. I listened to the sad Assassins Creed music when I finally offed the baddie in OtA, and I had a good little cry. It suits the mood of writing much better when you have a whole setup.

Does anyone else do the same? What do you all do for inspiration? It’s different for everyone; some people need utter silence, but me, I can’t handle silence even at night.

From Hell: Purity short story

“Our business here is finished, then.”

He tilted his head, smiling only somewhat. “I suppose it is—for now,” he replied in immaculate French. Smoke curled around his fingers and drifted up to his face, sickly sweet. Behind the thick smoke shrouding the room and their hushed conversation entirely in French, they were paid no heed by the others lounging in the parlour.

She pursed her lips. “And your end of the bargain?”

“We shall live up to it, sweet Béatrice.”

“It’s Vanessa now, Davide, and you would do well to remember that,” she countered, twisting her mouth in a grimace. The warning was clear, and her business done. She stood, her long skirts falling off the chair.

But his voice kept her in the smoky room a moment longer. “A new identity to renew yourself after the death of the king? Very well. Give my regards to the prince, Vanessa, and rest assured you have the protection of my pack wherever you dare venture in London.”

She scoffed and wove through the plush couches and polished tables that littered the parlour. Soon, the man’s animal smell was engulfed by the sweet scent of opium that hung over the room and she felt tension in her shoulders ease. Politics were still strained between her clan and his pack, from a failed revolution and the death of the king, but even she couldn’t deny they were her best option for protection while in England.

With a squeak of the door and a scuff of her boots, she stepped out of the gentlemen’s club and into the smoggy night air of London’s East End.

The reek of smoke, continuously belching from factory smokestacks, overwhelmed her in an instant. With it mixed the fetid slop dumped into streets and alleys; the fishy smell of the Thames; and a multitude of unwashed beings still prowling the night. She ceased breathing without hesitation, and began her trek toward the slums of Whitechapel; beneath the floorboards of a bawdy house was one of many safe-houses for her clan, ready to store those who made the trip to London.

She kept to the shadows and alleyways as she flitted in silence to the brothel. It was only the middle of the night, but she could feel acute weariness in her bones as the thirst set in. She had been awake, negotiating a contract with Davide and his fellow French nationalists, since the safety of twilight, and had not yet found an opportunity to care for her own wellbeing.

Even before she opened the door to the ramshackle brick building, she could hear the whores inside plying their trade. A small smirk found its way onto her face, and she quickly hopped up the steps to the door. Ah, the men of this city had no idea just what they were involving themselves with. What they were paying for.

The warmth of fire and smell of sweat and bodies greeted her as she stepped into the house. The door opened to a narrow hallway, with a cozy sitting room to the left and kitchen to the right. It was a small house, as they tended to be, especially in Whitechapel, but every bit of it was used to perfection. Rickety stairs led up to the second storey, with a second parlour and multiple bedrooms; and hidden beneath a carpet in the kitchen was a trap door to the cellar, where she and her compatriots could rest as they pleased.

She sighed and tugged off the black ribbon choker around her neck, the shell cameo toppling neatly into her palm. It would be a relief to free herself from this horrible, restricting corset and bodice, and simply lounge with the other ladies downstairs before her night progressed—

“What a beautiful pendant.”

She paused and glanced over her shoulder. Seated in an old wooden chair beside the door was a young man, smiling politely as he gazed up at her. “Thank you,” she said, barely lifting her lips in a smile as she tucked it away in the pockets of her jacket.

“May I ask where you got it?”

Well, she could spare a moment for this disillusioned male. She couldn’t climb into the cellar until most of the nosey humans had left, and she was feeling rather weak. She dipped her hand into the pocket and pulled out the cameo. “Here.” She handed him the ribbon and pendant. “A friend of mine gave it to me.”

The man smiled and held the necklace in front of him. She had long ago memorized the image stamped into the shell; a beautiful woman with curly hair and aristocratic profile. A woman long dead, who lived in the era of rebirth and art. He lightly ran his fingertips over the raised edges, his dark eyes twinkling in the nearby firelight. “Exquisite. I must admit I envy your friend, to be giving such lovely gifts to a lady such as yourself.”

She laughed at that, completely forgetting her manners. “Oh? You don’t even know my name, and you met me in a brothel. Who are you to assume what sort of lady am I?”

He laughed softly and stood from the chair. “I am Henry Francis Washburn, my lady, at your service.” With a deep bow, he cupped her hand in his and touched his lips to her fingers. “And though we meet in a brothel, I am only here as an escort to my younger brother, who insisted on enjoying the company of the ladies here before his wedding.” His moustache twitched as he chuckled, then he released her hand and straightened.

She smiled and tucked the cameo back into her jacket. “Vanessa Béatrice Estée Collingwood, a pleasure,” she said, and dipped into a curtsey.

“Ah, French? Of course. Your beauty rivals that of Parisian queens.”

“French through my mother alone. I was born here in London,” she admitted—and kept to herself that the London in which she had been born and raised was an entirely different city than the one of this modern, industrial age. “I hate to part your company so suddenly, Mr Washburn,” she added, spotting a friendly face grinning at her from the kitchen, “but I really must be going.”

“Of course. I do hope we can meet again, my lady.” He bowed again, and returned to his seat as she trotted into the kitchen.

“Vanessa, thank God you’re back.” The woman grabbed her arms and pulled her into the kitchen before quickly shutting the doors to the room. Her lips pursed and she began unlacing Vanessa’s bodice without a word of question. “Did you manage to make up a contract with the dogs?”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Vanessa slumped into the woman’s arms. “Yes. I have the extra protection of the local pack during my visit.” Once her chest was free of the restraining bone corset, she stretched, feeling the bones in her back pop and crack. “Anne, I have a favour to ask.”

“Anything, love. You know we’re all very pleased to have you here, helping out by the order of our king.”

“Prince,” she corrected idly. It was habit by now, and it had only been a mere seventy-nine years since the murder of their king. Shedding her jacket and handing it off to the plump little woman, she began to pull off her bodice and untie her skirts. “I have not found the time to feed yet tonight,” she said, shooting a sharp glance at Anne. Several other women were in the room, silent as they watched. “You know how the French dogs are.”

Anne scoffed and began folding Vanessa’s clothes without hesitation. “Tsk, the voivode ought to have just let them have their fun during the war,” she said, pointing her nose in the air, “then maybe they’d be more personable now.”

“Doubtful.” Thus freed from the constricting female fashion of the era and wearing only a loose cotton chemise, Vanessa padded over to a nearby mirror dangling from the papered wall. A shadow greeted her, little more than a smudge in the shape of her face and shoulders. “I do rather hope you have someone waiting.”

“Course we do, love. Lorelei!”

One of the girls, a pale American thing with startling blue eyes and naturally straight brown hair, stood from a chair in the corner and smoothed her hands over her voluminous dark skirts. “Yes, Anne?”

“Can you be a dear and see if Sarah’s done with that bloke upstairs? Would you like your fun with him too, dear?” Anne asked, turning her unnaturally bold brown eyes back to Vanessa.

She swiped her hands over her cheeks, clearing off some of the smudgy makeup applied earlier by one of the ladies. “Has he been drugged?”

“Of his own accord. Opium.”

“Hm.” She pursed her lips and turned away from the mirror. “No. Do you have anyone without intoxicants in his blood?”

“One, I think,” another lady replied. Pale, with dark brown curls and odd brown eyes that nearly bordered on amber, was sprawled in the corner near the kitchen hearth, picking at the dirt beneath her fingernails. Her accent was singsong; she was from Wales, unless Vanessa was mistaken. “Or you could pretend to be one of the ladies for the night and take one of the real men. There is a rather delectable gentleman sitting just in the front, outside the parlour.”

“In the hall? His name is Henry Washburn. He was awfully enamoured with me.”

The girls twittered with laughter, and Anne patted Vanessa’s shoulder. “And who wouldn’t be? Was it your pretty white face or ample bosom that did him in, eh?”

The women all laughed again, and Vanessa even allowed herself a small smile. “Actually, neither. He was astounded by my cameo pendant.” Padding across the room, she pulled the pendant from her jacket and held it out for the others to see. “It’s of my mother, during the Renaissance. Fane found it for me near to a century ago, while travelling France with Joachim Grey.”

“All a ruse, love. What man wouldn’t be infatuated by your perky breasts and nice round bum?” Anne slapped the posterior in question, making Vanessa flinch and hop away.

The Welshwoman snorted and shook her head. “How did you ever pass as a man in war?”

Vanessa rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. “Are you going to fetch me someone or not?”

Anne’s brows rose into her hairline. “Oh! No drugs or anything of the sort, Lorelei. Joan thinks we’ve someone who suits you.”

The American girl nodded and shuffled from the room. Raucous laughter and cries of pleasure seeped through the open door for just a moment; then it shut and they were left in muffled silence once more.

Once the girl was gone, Vanessa dug through the hidden pockets sewn to the inside of her skirts and petticoats, and unearthed several folded papers.

“Is that your research, then?” Anne asked, standing on her toes to peer over Vanessa’s shoulder.

“Yes. Have you any of the newspapers?”

“Oh, sure. They’re in the parlour.”

Vanessa nodded and pulled a silk robe off a hook on one wall. After tightening it around herself, she gathered her materials together and left the kitchen. As she crossed the hallway to the parlour, she stole a glance at the chair by the door. Empty. She clucked her tongue and slipped through the worn muslin curtain that stood in place of a door.

“That was a rather quick job, Miss Collingwood.”

Vanessa paused, papers still tucked under her arm, and spotted Henry Francis Washburn stretched over their single chaise longue, a newspaper folded between his hands. His jacket and hat were set neatly on a table nearby, and he seemed oddly at home, considering he was a gentleman in a whorehouse.

“You are rather bold, presuming I am a whore,” she replied crisply, and moved to the table where he set his coat. Uncaring for propriety—considering they were in a brothel and she was wearing only a shift and a long robe—she rifled through his pile of discarded garments until she came to the newspapers piled underneath. Armed with her research, she pushed his feet off the couch and made herself comfortable.

“I meant no offense.”

“And I took no offense.” She began to lay out the papers on the floor in front of her; newspaper clippings from journalists all around London, notes taken by several of her clan living in the area, and even a few pages in the delicate, looping cursive of the prince.

They sat in silence for mere minutes before Lorelei appeared at the entrance to the room, her white cheeks slightly flushed with pink. “Miss Collingwood,” she said timidly, her mouth curling into a sweet smile, “your room upstairs is ready.”

“Oh, brilliant.” She climbed off the couch and followed the girl through the narrow, winding halls of the building. The stairs creaked beneath their combined weight; the middle of each step was caved and worn thin from years of heavy traffic, and the railing looked as though it had toppled several times during the span of its life.

Every door they passed on the second floor was closed, but the sounds behind them were obvious. Despite being run by rather unconventional hostesses, the men who frequented the house had no idea its true purpose. It was a perfect setup. Vanessa only disliked how seldom she visited.

Lorelei led her to the final door on the right. She paused and gave a little curtsey. “He’s just in here, Miss Collingwood. Will you need anything else tonight?”

Vanessa cocked her head to the side and contemplated the girl before her. She was in her first decade, and hadn’t yet grown accustomed to protocol. “No. All I require is room to work. The parlour will do until I can go to the cellar. Thank you, Miss Morgan.”

The girl nodded again and vanished down the stairs, leaving Vanessa the only one standing in the hallway. She barely wasted a second and slipped into the room, shutting the door behind her and turning the key in the lock. The room was bare save for a rickety brass bed shoved against one wall; sprawled on it, arms and legs askew, was a middle-aged man with greying hair and blood soaking his front. His chest trembled with effort to breathe; perspiration misted his forehead. He was perfect.

In silence, she ghosted to the bed and lowered herself to the edge of the mattress. The man barely registered her presence, even as she tilted his head to the side to observe the deep gouges in his neck made by the other girls in the house. She smiled. Cuts in the neck of a man in a whorehouse. She ran her tongue over her teeth, and a shiver ran down her spine. So like the articles in the papers, and the reports from her fellows: deep cuts in the necks of whores in Whitechapel.

She leaned down and fastened her mouth over the torn flesh of his throat. He lacked the strength to cry out as her teeth sunk into his flesh and pierced the tender currents of blood running through his body. As she sucked in the warm lifeblood flowing freely from his neck, she lost herself in the ecstasy of the feed. This was why she was back in London, in the waning summer of 1888—because women had been found dead, organs removed and throats slashed, and all evidence pointed to a strigoi mort.

A vampire.

NaNoWHAAT?

I got talked into doing NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. Though I have an idea, the pressure of writing a certain amount each day is weird. I mean, I have a weirdly scheduled job, and poor sleeping habits, so reaching that daily goal is going to be an interesting challenge. According to my current, rather pitiable word count, I’ll be finished sometime in early December.

Excellent. Oh. That’s not the main goal of NaNo? Well, shit.

But I definitely like what I’m working on so far. Thanks to a little outside help, I have a story brewing already. Obviously, it’s related to Of the Arbour, because, really, what the hell else do I care enough to write about? It skips between the past and present, the entangled lives of two side characters. Who actually happen to be the parents of the main character.

Basically, they had a torrid love affair that ended up spawning the main character, and this story chronicles that time. And since it features my favourite side character – the father, Stride, who knows no limits to his stupidity and love for fun – I’m most pleased so far.

The clips of the past, of the time during said torrid love affair, are light-hearted (mostly) and full of inappropriate wisecracks and irresponsible teenagering.

“I don’t know how to keep slugs alive.”

“Dampness, I figure.” Stride tucked them back into his pocket and gave a casual shrug. “So, what’s your name?”

She pursed her lips and looked away, obviously uncomfortable with either his position being the Master’s son, his proximity, or his presence altogether. He wasn’t sure if he had met someone so awkward around him before. “Carol of the City,” she replied, only briefly glancing up at him. Almost as soon as her eyes met his, she looked back down at the floor.

Well. That could be worked around. Stride stuck out his hand and smiled prettily. Always smiling. His mother had once asked him if he ever got sore cheeks from showing so much dimple. “Now we’ve officially met, Carol of the City,” he said, laughter ringing his voice.

She gazed warily at him, then took his hand and gave it a quick shake. “Apparently so. Was there something you needed? Other than to show me your slug, that is.”

Stride snorted as he held back a laugh. That was one way of putting it. “What man would I be if I didn’t share my slug with the world?” he cooed, struggling to keep back laughter.

Her face turned a sudden alarming shade of scarlet and she gawked at him in horror. “Oh! I, uh—I am so sorry. That was… oh.” Flustered, she looked away and clapped her hands to her cheeks as if it would will away the tomato blush.

The clips of the present – the present being the time I’m currently writing in Of the Arena, when the main character is 30 and his parents are in their fifties and certainly more mature – are mostly reminiscing about the scenes of the past, discussing family, love, life, and regrets.

Behind him, one of the babies cooed, and they both glanced over to see Ash studiously making piles of leaves that were promptly destroyed by his little siblings. Since they seemed to be having the time of their lives without the help of their grandparents, Stride shrugged and looked back at Carol. She was watching them with a tender smile, her eyes glistening with pride and love.

“They’re good kids,” he murmured.

“They are the most precious things in this world. I feel so blessed to have them.” She wiped her eyes despite there being no tears, and fixed him with a curious frown. “Can I ask you something?”

“More than you already have? Ask away.”

“Did you… do you ever regret it?”

Stride sighed heavily and brushed his unruly blonde hair from his face. He hated seeing the silver hidden amongst the gold, proof that his youth was long behind him. “Surely you heard the racket I made when my father forced me to leave after graduation.”

“No. But I was told about it. He let you stay until he was born, at least.”

“Sure, but was I allowed to watch it? No. My own son…” Stride grunted thoughtfully and leaned back on the grass, letting the warmth of the sun move over him. “I think my biggest regret is not fighting hard enough to see him before I was sent away. Or to see you.”

Her hand set on his, small and warm. He gave it a thoughtful stare. Hers were kind and nurturing hands that had touched love and lust, borne the pain of handing a child to other guardians, cleaned and scrubbed, and assisted in bringing new life into the world. Compared to hers, his seemed so large and brutish.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”

“I know.” Stride stole another glance at his grandchildren.

Despite being behind the “official” NaNo word count, I like it so far. Stride and Carol are really precious together, and being two of my favourite minor characters, I can see this working out  quite well in favour of gushy romance and happy endings. No badass battle scenes here, no no. That can be saved for their accident-prone spawn.

Weird. I feel a disturbance in the Force strange sense of satisfaction doing NaNo for the first time, and with this story. So really, once I’m a famous publisher with hoards of fans clamouring to get my autograph, I can thank Elisa and NaNo for this story.

Because, you know, it will be in a short story anthology.

Obviously.

 

Is it bad that I consider 50 000 words a short story?

Immortal Soul Weeps: Of the Arbour short story, 1

The final line was sung and the theatre dome was filled with the clear sound of the young man’s tenor. It cut through the silence of the room, forcing hair to rise on the backs of guests’ necks and breath to catch in throats. The orchestra let their final note fade behind the vibrato note, until only the string quartet accompanied the lone young man standing at the centre of the polished stage.

Then the note ended and the spell was broken. Silence fell over the theatre for several heartbeats, then the audience began shrieking with cheers and a thunderous applause. The tenor bowed and grinned, the conductor stood from the orchestra pit, the rest of the performers reappeared from behind the red velvet curtain cutting the stage in two: but the audience, all standing in honour of the opera, were not calling for any who had appeared before them.

One young man split off from the rest of the group and ducked through the boisterous crowd until he reached the foyer of the theatre. It was void of all life save for that of the hosts standing beside the main entrance, but they didn’t even acknowledge his presence as he ghosted over the thick carpeting toward an unobtrusive wooden door tucked behind a smooth cherry wood bar. It was closed, unmarked, but when he tried the worn brass handle he found it wasn’t locked, and gave easily when he pushed.

The door opened to a narrow stone hallway, completely unadorned, with plain walls, heavy chandelier brackets and only a simple runner carpet down the centre. The green room opened nearby, he knew, and after the performers were presented to the audience they would return to wash their faces of lead powder and carmine, shed wigs and costumes, and chat about the success of the night’s performance.

But he wasn’t looking for the green room.

He continued down the hallway and smiled when he saw several vellum posters tacked to the wall. He slowed as he passed and glanced over them. A beautiful woodcut usually of men and women in elaborate gowns and headpieces, with a block letter title at the top, the names of the main performers underneath the image, and there, at the bottom, the name of the fabled creator: all were the most successful plays and poetry readings of the past four years, like The Heart of the Gladiator, Desert Bones Whispering, The City’s Gentleman, and, the most famous of the operas to date, the one he had just witnessed for the sixth night running, Immortal Soul Weeps. But it wasn’t the titles, or the beautifully printed woodcuts of lovers embracing, of men fighting monsters, or the record-breaking performance dates, that caught his eye. It was the name signed at the bottom of each page, hand copied onto each poster that was released throughout the City: Fen of the City.

Elusive and enigmatic: the greatest playwright and poet of this era never showed his face in polite society, never graced the stage with his presence after a performance, he was more of a ghost than a real being to most of the uneducated public, and a mysterious, exotic foreigner to the City’s courts of gossip. Once, after his first sold out performance in the City’s most prestigious theatre in the Exchange—therefore the most prestigious theatre in the entire Nation—for The Heart of the Gladiator, his first play that focussed solely on romance, there was a ball held in his honour in the wealthy quarter, Holy Emperor’s Way. According to the rumour mill, that was the only time he had ever appeared in public—and he had been dressed in thick folds of black velvet and cream lace, with a beaked masquerade mask, in plain black encrusted with pearls,  that hid his face from those desperate to meet him.

Fen of the City was a mystery, which only helped his plays gain popularity. Every time his work was performed, the audience expected to see him on stage after the final note had fallen silent.

The man chuckled to himself and rolled his eyes, then continued down the hallway until he reached another plain door. When he tried this one it was locked, so he knocked and leaned against the jamb, a small smirk playing at the corners of his lips.

Several moments of hesitation passed, then he heard a soft voice ask, “Who is it?”

“The reigning prince of agriculture,” he retorted, laughter ringing his voice. “Who do you think it is?”

Another pause. “Seriously.” The voice was flat and lacking amusement, and it only made him snort to stifle his chuckles.

“It’s your brother, Flynn. Open up, you smug hermit.”

The Birth of Existence: Of the Arbour mythology

Once, very long ago, before time had name or meaning and existence was only a swirling tempest of chaotic oblivion, the only life was that of the Immortal Soul. It was the very essence of change; in one moment, the Immortal Soul was a solar wind, whipping nonsensically through the vast plains of nothing; the next, it was the single white light shining proudly in the endless dark and seething shadows. It knew not how long it had been alone in the void, but it grew bored and it grew lonely. Seeing in a strange dream a sphere of deep blue, endless green and craggy brown, the Immortal Soul decided to construct a world to consume it’s boredom. It created the continents and seas, the mountains and verdant fields, the fierce storms and gentle clouds. The invention of this world forced Time to manifest, and its idea came to life. But even after it created animals to frolic and play in this new world, the Immortal Soul remained lonesome. It fashioned itself an image to cure it’s empty soul, but the quest failed, and it remained lonely. The Immortal Soul, the essence of change, became a creature of two arms and two legs, with skin that shone like the stars it once became in it’s boredom, and eyes of the moon, hair of sea crests, white and silky. The Immortal Soul altered it’s own reality to become a Man, a being it envisioned in whirlwind dreams. It chose for itself the name Xerxes, but even with the formation of it’s own entity, the Immortal Soul was still unhappy. He looked upon the beauty and isolation of his masterpiece, and he did something he never had experienced before: he wept.

Salty and cool, the unusual tears slipped down the cheeks of a god and fell to the surface of the beautiful imperfection he had sired; and in their wake came new life, a delicate and angelic reconstruction of the Man he had brought to life for himself.

The being he shaped bore the same iridescence as he; the same silvery eyes; long, pale yellow hair imitating the watery rays of morning sunlight; flesh clear and thin alabaster. He was amazed at his new creation. The being was small and fragile, curled upon itself like a newborn animal. Such splendor and glory: it was too elegant for the crude lines of his male form, and she became a Woman. She rose to her feet and in a moment Xerxes the Immortal Soul descended on the earth to stand by the side of his creation. Such a beautiful thing deserved a beautiful name; he called her Skye, and gave to her a tropical kingdom of dazzling lagoons and whispering trees above peaceful canals. He was immediately enamoured with her, and he impregnated her. From deep within the fertile walls of her womb sprang a young Woman, fully grown, bearing the same desaturated hues as mortal mother and undying father.

Impressed by this daughter, Xerxes named her Alexia. From the Woman Skye came a succession of four more children: a son called Ankhum, a middle daughter he named Symrine, another breathless copy of Skye called Marxyn, and the youngest was a son named Mikal.

Satisfied with these creations, Xerxes the Immortal Soul returned to his seat in the otherworldly realm, and watched with joy as his sons and daughters explored the world he made for them. Alas, Time passed, as it always does, and he was forced to witness as the Mother succumbed to her own mortality and rejoined the ashes of the earth. And though it broke his heart to watch the life seep from her eyes, nothing he attempted could restore to her the vigour she once harboured. Upon the death of the Mother, chaos began it’s rule. Alexia, the eldest and most powerful of the children, wrenched control of the Mother’s god-given kingdom after her death, and made her brother Ankhum her prince and ally. Displeased with the unfair tyranny of her rule, Marxyn and Mikal formed their own alliance and attempted a coup.

Xerxes could only watch as battles of war ravaged his once perfect land; the shapeless, shadowy hands of oblivion pulled him back even as he attempted to return to his creation and end the needless bloodshed. Symrine, the only daughter loyal to the peaceful will of the Mother, remained a neutral party, but war eventually destroyed any affection shared between the daughters and sons of Xerxes and Skye. The Immortal Soul witnessed the downfall of his beauty; alliances shattered, and each of the five children stole away on their own chosen blocks of land, creating five separate kingdoms, all harbouring deep-seeded animosity to each other. To ensure the safety and segregation of their people, each of the queens and kings devised a marking to be worn upon their faces, forever acknowledging their holy ruler.

Thus able to easily discern enemies from allies, tribal wars erupted between the kingdoms, further isolating them. Xerxes watched and he wept. The daughters and sons of his first heavenly creation had lost sight of their purpose and lost deep in their hearts the unconditional, everlasting love of the Mother Skye and Xerxes the Immortal Soul. In one final act, Xerxes returned to his garden and spoke to his children. To their blackened hearts he begged for an end to the bloodlust and destruction, but his words met with deaf ears. Loyal Symrine promised to honour her father’s wishes; with a wave of her elegant white arm, she called back her forces from the jungles of her siblings and left their kingdoms in peace. Hard-hearted Alexia and simpering Ankhum refused and their combined fury birthed a maelstrom of warriors and ordnance. Bitter Marxyn and Mikal reacted to Alexia and Ankhum by fashioning watercraft capable of wielding unworldly devastation. Wars devoured the once liberated and harmonious land he fashioned to ease the loneliness clutching his soul but, as he sadly watched his daughters and sons prepare for war, he knew his creations were faulted, that no Man or Woman could ever be free of sin and lust. With a breaking heart, the Immortal Soul abandoned his body of Man, his vile creation, and fled to the darkest fathoms of the silent void, leaving behind a world of beauty in destruction, only to return when the hearts of his loyal flock cry out his holy name, and praise the wayward psalms of Xerxes and Skye.

Heir Apparent: Of the Arbour flash fiction

Jain was furious.

There was no other word for it. The rage building up inside her, pressure building in her chest, was primordial and black, threatening to overcome her. Shortening her breath, darkening her vision; she clenched her fists in her silk skirts and shut her eyes, slowly counting in her head to help calm down.

“Lady Jain?”

“Do not speak to me right now,” she snapped. Opening her eyes, she saw her scholar and steward, and two guards who were sworn to protect her and follow her every move, all gawking at her in stunned silence. “Ye can’t just go and—and—”

“Lady Jain.” The steward’s voice was oddly comforting, and she fixed him with a dark stare. He didn’t even flinch, but kept smiling cordially. Behind him, the ill-fated messenger was looking at his feet, visibly trembling as he turned his crushed hat in his hands. “’Tis the will o’ yer father, the king. Ye can’t go against it.”

“Why?” She flung her arms out, making the soft silk of her dress rustle and whisper. “This is all mine, no? And he’s got a mind to just steal it all from under me?” Tearing her heated gaze from the steward, she looked at the room they stood in. It was Castle Hailstone’s vast library, with oak shelves and leather-bound books from all ages and regions, and cherry wood desks, plush armchairs, and velvet curtains. Oil portraits of the Wastes’ past counts decorated the papered walls, gilded on the edges. “What does my mother think o’ all this?”

“’Tis the word of the king, milady,” the steward said again. Jain’s eyes narrowed into sharp slits as his falsely cheery smile flickered, then faded out and his lips pressed into a humourless line. “Ye can’t go against it, nay matter what ye wish, and neither can your mother. Your brother is the new heir—”

“But I was born first!” she shrieked. The rage poured through her veins like white-hot fire, erupting beneath her pores to make her itch and writhe. Her corset was too restricting; her breath was laboured, and her jaw trembled with the effort to keep from screaming herself hoarse. “I am the heir! He can’t just take it from me just because Mother spawned something with a prick!”

Beside her, her scholar’s eyes bugged. “Lady Jain, I never—”

“No,” she interrupted, holding up one perfectly manicured hand to keep them from talking. “Ye’ll listen to me. I am your future queen! Father will see the error o’ his ways, and he’ll fix. He always does.”

A thin silence fell over the library as her final words left her lips. Biting her tongue to keep from further lashing out, she glared down her subjects—men who were sworn to protect her, because she was the Nation’s rightful heir—visually daring them to speak out and defend her father’s foolish actions.

After a pregnant pause, the messenger cleared his throat. Jain’s scowl darkened, upsetting what could have been pretty features, and he quickly looked away from her gaze.

“Just so ye know, milady,” he whispered, gripping his hat so tightly that his knuckles turned white, “yer brother’s name is Gideon.”

Jain watched with blind eyes in heavy silence as the steward saw the messenger out of the library and castle, thanking him quietly for his information, and he was serving his king so well. The hate and anger was receding, bubbling back to the depths deep inside her where it usually hid, rarely to be provoked so heinously. She blinked several times to clear her vision, then slowly sat back on her velvet, cushioned armchair and set her hands on the cherry desk in front of her.

She waited with demure patience until the steward returned. He bowed deeply, folding his hands behind him, and said, “Yer father, His Majesty the king, wishes ye to finish your studies here in Hailstone, milady, and then he will have ye sent to the City to meet your new prince.”

Jain swallowed something hard that had formed in her throat. “Get out,” she hissed, and the rest of the men in the room bowed respectfully, then backed from the room, leaving her in solitude. The deafening silence of being alone pressed in on her from all sides, forcing her to ponder what her father did to her and to the kingdom. Staring blankly at the smooth lines of the cherry desk, Jain sat, and she waited.