The Worlds I’ve Created: Alimonhal

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World building is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.  I adore coming up with all the rules for the magic, the names for the places, and the different kinds of people that you’ll discover in my world.  A good 90% of my world building doesn’t even appear in a book anywhere, it’s just fascinating information I have to draw on as I’m creating new stories in that world.

With NaNoWriMo on the horizon, I’ve been looking back through some of my older work for inspiration, and I thought I’d share a bit with you about one of my oldest worlds.  Like many of my worlds, there are many stories I’ve written there, but none of them have ever made it out of my computer for very long.  There’s one world in particular that I’m incredibly fond of, but may never publish a story in.  This was my very first complete world building experience.  I called in Alimonhal.

Alimonhal evolved over time, like all my worlds, but I created the bulk of it during the summer after my sophomore year in high school.  I also wrote my first novel that summer, set in Alimonhal, which will likely never to see the light of day.  Oh, the Deus ex machina problems that book has.  And like many teenage works, it also had a healthy dose of Mary Sue issues, as well as insertions of most of my friend group at the time.  I’ve grown so much since then.

There are a few surviving stories from the world that I still tinker with on occasion, and it is the setting for one of the few short stories I’m actually proud enough of to share.  It was a high fantasy setting based loosely on medieval times, except that it wasn’t on earth and the races of Alimonhalians were delineated in ways that were a bit more concrete than humans.  Some of it was based on physical characteristics like height, build, or pupil shape, but it also extended to what foods were poisonous to you, what kinds and how much “magic” you might be able to control, and how acute your senses would be.

I’d developed four races originally, each with its own distinctive features and relationship to and opinions about Art, which was the name I gave to magic in my world.  My cast of characters for the first book included a few multi-racial characters, who had to deal with a good amount of prejudice because of it.  There were also characters from multiple races and countries, because even in my fictional world, I was looking for diversity and a chance for inclusion and empathy.  Each country was largely one race with pockets of other races and multi-racial individuals or communities.  Each country also dealt with those minority communities differently.  I tried to make my world as complex as my real one, with faction and politics, and divisions that made sense based on the history of that world.

I developed new species to fill in for the traditional livestock and pets you would find on earth.  Some more closely modeled on their inspiration than others.  I tried to make the horse substitute more distinctive, but obviously didn’t make much effort to disguise a variety of cat species large and small.

By far my favorite part, was the magic system.  I called it Art, and it could do almost anything if you had enough of it and enough training in controlling it.  But there were limitations.  Most people could only master one, or maybe two forms of Art.  So one Artist might be adept at elemental manipulation of water, but be unable to work with any other element while another had telekinesis, but no other Artistic skills.  Each Artist also had a finite amount of power.  Someone truly powerful might be able to pull off something like teleportation of themselves and possibly another person, but only over a short distance, and they’d be tired afterward, so be unable to do so again in quick succession.  Someone less powerful could send a scroll to a location they knew, but couldn’t teleport themselves.

I built in ways to get around that as well.  Artists could work together to share their available power.  They could direct it together, or one Artist could let another have complete control to use their skills with the power resources of both.  This kind of joining was a skill as well, so not just anyone could do it without training.  There were also certain types of crystals that could store Artistic energy and certain types of wine or fruit that could enhance an Artist’s natural abilities temporarily.  The wine at least had suitable side effects to limit how much or how often an Artist could use it without issues.

I had all this back story for the magic, how people learned it, how the countries split off the way they did, why the races had distributed geographically, and how the current political climate had come about.  I developed more as I continued to write more after that first novel, coming up with complicated aristocratic ties and long ago intermarrying between countries aristocracies.  Almost none of it appears directly in any of the novels or stories I worked on.

That’s the beauty of world building.  I have a vast knowledge about my world and how it functions, but the reader doesn’t need to know most of it.  Only what’s important to the current story makes it onto the page.  Alimonhal even had a map.  I made it in MS Paint because it was the only tool available to me at the time.  I even printed it out once and taped it all together.  I hung onto that map (which I’d marked up with notes from another story, or my attempt to run the story as an RPG with friends) until this past year.  The tape had disintegrated and the pages were permanently yellowed and curled.  It was a reminder of how hard I’d worked to create that world.  Putting that map in the recycling bin was a bittersweet moment.

I’ve moved onto other worlds and created other places for my imagination to run wild, but I occasionally return to these older stories and my very first world.  It shows me how much I’ve grown, but also how passionate I was about my stories and characters from the very beginning.  It also helps me fondly remember my friends at the time, who I can see in almost every character that gets dialog.

I hadn’t developed many tools yet for world building when I created Alimonhal, so the work is scattered across stories, word documents, journals, notebooks, and that map that still exists on a hard drive somewhere.  These days I make copious use of excel for my world building information, as well as supplemental word documents.  I keep story bibles so that I can be consistent in all the things I’m writing in a given world.  I have friends who use Scrivener or other specially designed software for their novels and world building.  What kind of tools do you use for your world building?

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Image Prompt 043 Response – Half Moon

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I selected the image of the moon through the trees for my twenty-minute sprint this week.  It makes me think of the witches in my Swords & Shields series, so I decided to do a little piece from when Sinikka was seventeen.

Half Moon:

Sinikka stood in the grass behind the house alone.  Her parents were in France this week, and Jordan was at a meeting at the Topoischús.  She was entirely alone on the estate.  She couldn’t remember a time in her entire seventeen years when she was completely alone like this.  Her parents, Jordan, or some other responsible adult had always been nearby before.

Slipping out of her shoes, Sinikka padded barefoot across the grass, moving away from the house.  On the estate she could be certain of her privacy and safety.  No one could cross the wards that wasn’t trusted implicitly by her mother.  She watched the trees, waiting for the moon to rise through their silhouettes in the quickly darkening sky.  It was only the half moon tonight, but she felt like celebrating nonetheless.

As the moon rose, a pale half circle peaking between branches, Sinikka began to dance.  It wasn’t formal, like the ballet or modern dance classes she’d taken when she was younger.  She just let herself move to the rhythm of the music she heard in her soul.  The night was alive with the sounds of nature around her.  The wind in the trees mingled with the soft hum of insects and the occasional mournful call of the owl the lived in their woods.

Sinikka’s magic slowly expanded around her as she danced and her usual tight shielding eased.  She was alone and safe and her magic would do no harm to the natural world around her, so she let it breath free of its usual constraints.

It was exhilarating, to feel the life around her and know that it was stronger for the touch of her magic.  She breathed life into the very air and everything her magic touched gained a little magic.  She had so much more than she needed, so she let it out into the night, letting it rise up toward the moon and stars.

She never stopped dancing as her magic soaked into the ground beneath her feet and spread out to touch the house, the bushes, and further afield, the trees among whose branches the moon shone brightly.

The moon had traveled half way between the estate wall and the tree tops when Sinikka felt her magic touch the wards of the estate.  She’d let it completely lose from its bonds, but the wards kept her safely inside, secure and contained where she could do no harm to others and none could do harm to her.  She faced the moon, her arms held high in exultation, then made one slow turn, to acknowledge the whole of the world and the blessings of the gods before facing the moon once more.

She lay down in the grass, staring up at the star-filled sky.  She breathed deep as she began to gather her magic to herself once more.  Each breath brought her magic closer, pulling it tighter to her.  She didn’t rush, enjoying the feel of her magic moving over the grass and animals as it came back to her.

The moon was rising above the treetops when she drew the last of her magic inside herself once more.  She felt full to bursting, as if there were more magic to contain than there had been when she began the night.  She’d never felt so alive before, so connected to the world around her.

The grass was soft beneath her, and the wind cool against her face as she continued to gaze into the sky.  She could still feel the wards at the edge of the estate.  They were ancient and powerful.  Built and strengthened by generations of her mother’s family.  When her mother inherited the estate, she’d added her own strength to the wards, renewing and strengthening them.  When Sinikka turned eighteen next month she would add her magic to the wards as well.  One more witch in a long line protecting the place they called home.

Image Prompt 042 Response – This Is Not Our Basement

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I selected the image of Scotland cityscape for my twenty-minute sprint this month.  I hope you enjoy the beginning of this idea.

This Is Not Our Basement:

Michael made his way down the stairs into the basement to investigate the weird noises.  His roommate must have left one of her weird experiments running, because the combination of bubbling noises and sharp knocking sounds made no sense and wasn’t rhythmic enough to be music.

The light was still on, but she’d put up a red filter so it didn’t do more than make sure he didn’t trip on the stairs.  He didn’t see her as he reached the bottom, but that didn’t always mean anything.

“Claire?” he called out, hoping she was there and would answer him.

No response.

Michael walked further into the room, checking to make sure there wasn’t anything strewn across the floor.  All he saw were faint markings, like she’d been drawing on the floor with chalk.

“Claire?” he called again.  “If you’re down here, let me know.”

Michael kept walking toward the back of the room.  There were two rooms, so she might have been in the other one with the door closed and not hear him.

When he reached the center of the room, right under the red light, his foot hit something less than solid.

“What the…” he started.  Before he could even finish the sentence, he was pulled forward and the light went out as wind rushed up around him.  He couldn’t tell if he was falling, or if a wind was coming up from the floor.

His foot hit solid ground again and he stumbled as the sudden light nearly blinded him.

Michael took two steps and then finished his sentence.

He as standing on a path leading down a hill toward a city.  A European city by the look of it.  He looked behind himself to find more hill, and beyond that more city.

“Claire?” he said softly.

“Michael?” she asked, popping up from the grass beside the path.

“This is not our basement,” Michael said.

“I told you not to come down without asking,” Claire said, hurrying to his side.  “You aren’t hurt are you?”  She actually grabbed his hand so she could take his pulse.

“Confused, but not hurt,” Michael said.  “Where are we?”

“Dundee, Scotland,” Clair said.  “I was testing out a portal.  You at least answered the question of whether it stays open after someone goes through it.”

“How do we get home?” he asked.

“Same way we got here,” Clair said.  “It’s a two-way portal.  You just have to back into it.”

“So I just walk backward?” Michael asked.

“That should do it,” Claire said.  “Let me get clear first,” she added before hurrying off the path.

Michael took two steps backward, then another two.  “You sure about this?” he asked as he took two more steps backward.

“That’s not good,” Claire said.  “It should have worked.  Let me try.”

Michael stepped off the path and Clair started in front of him and walked backward several steps.

“It’s not there,” Claire said.  “That is not good.”

“So you’ve said,” Michael replied dryly.

“It means we have to find another way home,” Claire said.  “It was supposed to be a one use portal, which I thought meant in one way, out the other and it closes until that person goes back the other way.  Apparently that means open, go through once, go back through once, and it closes.  And it doesn’t distinguish direction, so when you came through, it closed.”

“This is what I get for trying to pay the rent on time,” Michael said, sitting down in the grass.

“I thought I gave you the rent,” Claire said.

“You gave me June rent,” Michael said.  “It’s the first of July.  July rent is due in four days.”

“Oh, damn, sorry,” Claire said, biting her lip.  “I’ll figure out how to get us home by then.  Or at least get a check cut.”

“Why are you not freaking out?” Michael asked.

“I specialize in magic, this isn’t that big a deal,” Claire replied.

“And we’re in another country without any papers or permissions,” Michael pointed out.

“At least they speak English,” Claire countered.  “Much easier not to get noticed this way.”

If I realized you were this much of an optimist I might not have let you move in,” Michael groused.  “So what’s the plan, and how can I help?”

“The plan is to find some supplies and open a portal home,” Claire said.  “If you have any cash, or your cell phone on you that would be helpful.  I have my phone but no cash.”

Michael started pulling things out of his pockets.  He had his phone, three receipts from yesterday, eighty-five cents in change, and his wallet which revealed four dollars and one emergency check.

“That is not going to get us home, but we can at least write the check and get that home,” Claire said.  “I can transport it directly into the rent box, so they won’t hit us with late fees.”

“But it will overdraft my account and charge me a ton of money.”

“I swear to pay you back for all of that, plus interest, and an apology gift for you ending up here with me.”

I Love Language

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This might seem obvious, since I’m a writer and all, but I love language.  I love the structure, the history, the shades of meaning, and the infinitely complex ability to create ideas and stories from disparate words.

I’ve always loved story, for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I remember becoming fascinated by language itself.  I started taking Spanish, and seriously learning about another language.  This was also the period when my sister would read our Encyclopediatic Oxford English Dictionary, sometimes out loud.  Yes, you read that right, my sister read the dictionary.  I was also taking my first real literature classes.  Prior to this English class (or Language Arts in some schools) was about spelling, parts of speech, developing vocabulary, and the ability to read and comprehend texts.

These three things combined to open my eyes to the complexity of language, and I saw the first glimmers of complexity and contradiction within it.  How you translated a word in Spanish depended on what country you were in, or the shade of meaning you wanter.  What a word meant could be different in England and the US.  Language was different when a text we were reading was very old.  I was still grappling with the language differences between Lansing, Michigan and Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Then we moved to Gastonia, North Carolina, and the language differences were even more pronounced.  Fayetteville is not as southern as the rest of the South because it has a military base and thus a lot of transplants.

My high school creative writing teacher kept my love of language building as I took her course each year starting as a sophomore and then had her for senior English as well.  I learned about Shakespeare, villanelles, and how to write a proper hook in a novel.

Then I went off to college.  I registered for an etymology course my first semester because my sister had enjoyed taking it and told me a lot of fascinating things.  This didn’t work out as planned (who holds a once a week, three-hour long course in a non-air-conditioned building with no break?) and I ended up dropping the course after one long boring session.  I came back to language in college when I took a course on the history of the English language.

The instructor was young and dynamic (he was on notice on the Colbert Report for a lot of years).  The subject matter was interesting and ever evolving.  And I learned that I am a descriptive grammarist.  I was hooked.  I read extra books outside of class about etymologies and the history of words.  I took another class with him the next year called Modern English.  It was awesome.  Except for missing the midterm due to norovirus and having to do a makeup the next week.  I finally learned what a gerund is and how to diagram a sentence (which, for the record, I never managed to do completely correctly by myself).

I fell in love with the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) during those courses.  I still use it today.  (Thank you, to the university I work for who provide me with full library access and thus OED access.)  When I write historical pieces, I’ll look up what slang was in use at the time, and check the OED for usage in writing.  When I did my 2017 A to Z challenge as 30 one-word writing prompts, I provided the OED definitions alongside the post.  Sometimes I’ll just look up a word to read through its evolution over time.

I still look for books of compiled etymologies, and I still love the random little facts I know because I study the language of English and not just how to write in English.  One of my favorites by far, is geek.

Originally (1870s-1980s), a geek was a slang term for someone foolish or offensive.

Then (1920s-70s), a geek was a circus performer who bit the heads off chickens or other animals.  Seriously.

Then (1950s-present), it developed the meaning of a person who was obsessive about a particular thing (a Harry Potter geek for example), or someone particularly devoted to technology and computers.

Now, geek is used either as an insult for someone perceived as un-cool and too smart or dorky, or used to self-identify as really into a topic or generally into tech or other topics often referred to as nerdy.  And that bit hasn’t even made it fully into the OED yet.

And that’s just the noun form.  The verb has its own related history.

Originally (1930s-80s), to geek or geek out was to give up or lose one’s nerve.

Then (1940s-80s), it was used to describe the act of biting off heads of animals done by a geek the noun.

Then (1980s-90s), it meant to make someone nervous or excited.

And now (1990s-2000s), it’s typically used in the geek out form, and refers to when someone launches off on a topic (often technical, or fringe in some way) in a manner deemed inappropriate or excessive.  (This is what a Harry Potter geek does.  How inappropriate it is depends on the audience.)

One of the interesting things about the above (all of which comes curtesy of the online OED) is that the usages overlap.  This clearly shows that language changes over time, but that this change is inconsistent.

And that’s just one example of why I find language so fascinating.

Do you find language as fascinating as I do?  What’s your favorite thing about language?

Image Prompt 041 Response – Light in the Storm

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I’m going to be playing with character’s we’ve seen before this time.  I developed them for one of my April A to Z challenges and have written a couple of image response scenes with them as well.  I used the winter stairs for my twenty-minute sprint, and after a quick copy edit this is the result.  I hope you enjoy.

Light in the Storm:

Avery woke up feeling cold.  That wasn’t usually a problem these days, but Ry wasn’t on the other side of the bed like usual.  Avery sat up to find Avery standing at the window with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.  He glanced at the clock.

“Why are we awake at dawn?” Avery asked.

Ry shrugged, his eyes never leaving the window.  He’d opened the curtains and the blinds, which explained what woke Avery up.  Any amount of light signaled to his body that it was time to be awake.

Avery slipped out of their bed and padded across the room to stand with Ry.

Ry opened the blanket without a word and Avery snuggled in against Ry’s side.  The blanket carried Ry’s warmth as Ry wrapped it around Avery’s shoulders.

“It’s beautiful,” Avery said as he gazed out the window.

It had snowed the day before and the stairs going up the hill behind their apartment building were barely visible under all the fluffy white.  The sun was rising between the trees, tinting everything with a soft golden glow.  It was peaceful and Avery could understand why Ry was just staring.

“Every time I see snow I think of him now,” Ry said.

“Him?” Avery asked.  Ry had a habit of forgetting that Avery couldn’t read his mind to know which person he was thinking about.

“Uriel,” Ry said.  “It was always snowing when I saw him that first visit.”

“I’m glad he was there when we needed him.”

“When you needed him,” Ry corrected.

“It’s really the same thing now,” Avery replied.  They’d been together for five years.  Ry had followed him back to America.

“That last time it definitely was,” Ry said with a soft breath of laughter.

“Yeah, Rosario needed to hear what he had to say,” Avery agreed.  He’d always known that Rosario was protective.  He just hadn’t realized just how protective until he met Ry.  It showed how much Rosario cared, and how much he wanted Avery to be well and happy, but it had rankled a bit in the moment when Rosario had accused Ry of taking advantage.  Avery knew it was much more the other way around.

“I still don’t understand what Uriel meant.”

“You’re the light I need in a storm,” Avery said softly.  Uriel had spoken the words softly, almost going unheard by anyone as Avery and Rosario argued.  Avery almost cried in relief when Rosario stopped and looked at Uriel.

“I’m not good with metaphors,” Ry said.

Avery cuddled in closer, wrapping his arms firmly around Ry’s waist.  Ry really wasn’t any good with metaphors.  He could be so very literal.

“You’ve never asked before,” Avery said.

“It didn’t seem important,” Ry replied.  “It made Rosario back down and accept that you loved me.  That’s all that mattered in that moment.”

“And now?” Avery asked.

“All the snow is making me think of Uriel, of everything he did to help us when I first met him, and how little he really knows me.”

“He knows you better than you think,” Avery replied.  “He has access to a lot more information than the average person.”

“I’m still not sure I believe that part,” Ry admitted.

“Whether you believe it or not, Uriel is what he is.  He can see the faith in you, even if it isn’t a religious kind of faith.”

“So what did he mean about me being your light?” Ry asked.

“It could mean a lot of different things, or all of them at once,” Avery replied.  “I think about it like this.  You’re my touchstone, what I always come back to, and what helps guide me every day to be the man I should be.  Whenever there’s trouble, you’ll always be what I’m fighting for or fighting to get back to, so in any trouble that comes up (that would be the storm) you’re like a lighthouse in the dark, warning me away from rocks, and also the light of the sun shining outside the storm.”

“Metaphors are complicated,” Ry mumbled.

Avery glanced up to find Ry blushing.

“I love you,” Avery said.  It was adorable how bashful Ry could get when Avery said how important he was.

“I love you too,” Ry replied kissing Avery’s hair.  “And I always will.”

From the Archives: The Souls in Their Eyes

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I was looking through some old files this week, and came across one of the short stories I’m actually proud of.  I struggle with short stories, because I always want to tell more and make the story bigger and longer, which is why I predominantly write novels.  There are a few short pieces I’m proud of, and this is one of them.  I originally wrote this for a fiction course in college.  I also did a bit of work on it in 2007 and actually sent it out to a few magazines in an attempt to get it published as part of a course I was taking in graduate school.  I haven’t worked on it since, but I thought I would share it with you here since I’m still rather fond of the story.

The Souls in Their Eyes

By Heather C. Wright

Dawn comes in a fiery blaze of red.  Rhoash sits on the bed looking out the window to her left.  She hasn’t slept at all.  She can’t remember ever sleeping the night before her birthing day celebration.  Each birthing day brought more responsibilities with it but this one is different.  Almost a year ago her body began to follow the cycles of the moon, meaning that this year she celebrates her entrance into womanhood.  No more wearing my brothers’ outgrown shirts and breeches.  The sun rises above the buildings in the distance, momentarily blinding her, Rhoash closes her eyes.

“Rho!” her mother, Penrho, yells from the main room of the house.  A smile creeps across Rhoash’s face. I can always tell where everyone is. She rises from the bed.

“I’m awake, Mother,” she calls back, just loud enough to be heard.  With a sigh she opens the chest under the window and takes out the blouse and skirt she made for the occasion.  The blouse is softer than the ones she usually wore.  Her mother spun the flax and wove the cloth herself.  Rhoash made the skirt material, an emerald green with a pattern of deep blue woven through at intervals.  She pulls off her sleeping gown and pulls the blouse over her head.  It hangs half way down her calves.  She laughs, realizing she cut the pattern from one of her mother’s blouses, forgetting to take into account that her mother is a full head taller than she is.  Rhoash stopped growing when she was eleven.  Three years have passed and she shows no signs of growing again.  She pulls the cord tight at the neckline and ties it off before letting it fall back inside the blouse.  She pulls the skirt on over her too-long blouse.

Picking up her shawl and corset from the chest Rhoash closes it before leaving her alcove.  As she draws the curtain back, Yenko, her older brother, appears from her left.  They used to share the alcove where he sleeps, but since she is to be a woman now their parents gave her a small space of her own.

“Good morrow, Rho,” Yenko says as he gives her a one armed hug.  “Today is your day,” he adds with a smile as they walk to the ladder.  Rhoash smiles for her brother, but as soon as he has turned away the smile fades.  It’s not my day; yesterday was my last day.  She drapes the shawl over one shoulder and puts her hand through the arm holes of the corset so that she can go down the ladder.  She looks down to watch her feet and skirt.  In breeches I can almost slide down the ladder.  At the bottom she turns toward the kitchen to find her mother.

“Can you help me with the corset?” she asks her mother quietly.

“Certainly, dear,” her mother replies, giving the morning’s cereal one last stir before walking to her daughter.  “Let me hold that,” Penrho says, taking the shawl and tossing it over her own shoulder.  Rhoash quickly unties the cording around the shoulders of the corset, handing them to her mother before pulling the front piece out of the band on the inside and putting the vest section on.  “Hold that, there,” Penrho says, positioning the front piece on her daughter’s chest.  Rhoash does as instructed and watches as her mother’s nimble fingers quickly lace each side to the vest.  “There,” her mother says with apparent satisfaction.  “Tighten that so that it’s comfortable and keeps your blouse out of the way.”  She smiles at her daughter.  “The blue compliments your eyes so,” she says as her daughter tightens each side evenly.

“Thank you,” Rhoash mumbles.  At least my eyes are pretty, she thinks sullenly.  She has the deep blue eyes and coppery red hair that her mother does, but she hasn’t grown into herself yet.  I’m still as lanky and awkward as I was at eight.  Her mother hands her the shawl.  Rhoash goes back to the main room and retrieves the spinning wheel.  I can’t sit idly by, even today.

After spinning a quarter of a spool, Rhoash is called to the table to break her fast.  Yenko ruffles her hair as he passes to sit between her and their father, Ashko, at the large table.  It is just the four of them now that her two eldest brothers have left for the capital city, hoping to find better prospects there.  Their adopted city, Rakal, is large enough but often unfriendly to what the nobles call “impure folk.”  I wonder what my chances are of even leaving our neighborhood when I’m olderYenko will and I want to stay close to him.  After everyone has eaten Rhoash helps her mother clear away and wash the dishes while Yenko and their father go to saddle the horse.  The entire neighborhood will turn out for the birthing day celebration at Halbe’s Inn.

Rhoash wraps her shawl around her shoulders and her father helps her mount the horse.  She looks down at her family, a rare thing since she is the shortest of them all.  Her father’s face is bright with a smile, and his pupils are small in the bright morning light, showing the deep brown of his eyes.  Yenko got their mother’s bright blue eyes and their father’s deep brown hair and muscular frame.  The neighborhood girls call him handsome when he isn’t there to hear.  Gray is starting to dull the bright sheen of Penrho’s coppery hair, but her eyes are as bright as always.  Ashko takes the reigns of the horse and leads his family toward the inn.  The place doubles as their meeting hall in the city.  The whole neighborhood migrated from the Imardan countryside as a group when the droughts left their village destitute a generation before.  Like so many Imban they ended up in the Felan cities of Arintal forming communities of their own within the large cities.

It takes almost a quarter of an hour to reach Halbe’s Inn at the slow pace Rhoash’s father sets.  I could run the distance in only a few minutes, or at least I could in breeches.  I hate skirts.  Rhoash is startled by the crowd when they arrive.  It seems like more people have come than three years ago when Yenko had his celebration.  The inn is a three-story wooden structure, with a great room on the bottom floor and the kitchen fires in a shed right out back.  The upper two stories contain guest rooms as well as rooms for Halbe and his family.

Rhoash takes a deep breath and tries to keep a smile fixed on her face as her father and brother lift her from the horse and carry her inside.  She is deposited inside the doorway, where Veznas, the eldest woman in the community, is waiting.  Veznas holds out a great basin to Rhoash, who takes it carefully.  It is full of deep red wine, the smell of which makes her a bit nauseated.  I hate wine even more than skirts, she thinks as she walks carefully to the center of the room.  The women of the neighborhood surround her in a great circle.  The men must wait behind them.

Deep breaths.  Rhoash concentrates on keeping her hands and arms steady as she holds the basin.  She watches as Veznas and Penrho walk together into the circle, each carrying a pitcher.  Veznas dips her pitcher into the basin and brings it out brimming full of wine.  The basin is suddenly lighter and Rhoash hopes she can hold it as Veznas begins the ritual by pouring the wine back into the basin.  The wine flows in a long steam of red.  It looks like freshly spilled blood.

“Wine,” Veznas begins, “the fruit of our labors runs into the great basin as life’s blood runs from the womb of a newfound woman.  Today, we celebrate Rhoash as she becomes a woman and begins her journey as a giver of life.”  The last of the wine drips into the basin as she finishes speaking.  Now Penrho fills her pitcher.

“As my life’s blood flowed into you my spirit did as well, and you grew and were nurtured,” she says, pouring the wine slowly.  “Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, spirit of my spirit, today you sever that spiritual connection so that your spirit may grow and be ready to nurture the spirits of the children that will spring forth from your womb.”  There is more wine to fall into the basin when Penrho is finished speaking.  Rhoash caught her practicing with the wash water one morning; she tries not to smile during the solemn ritual.

“The Goddess looks down on us with favor,” Veznas continues, “the crone, the mother, and the maid.  We are as she is.”  Penrho and Veznas each put their hands on the basin and help Rhoash to raise it above her head, presenting it to the Goddess.  “May She bless you and keep you and guide your path,” Veznas finishes as the three bend to place the basin on the floor.  Veznas cups her hands and dips them into the wine, pouring wine into Penrho’s cupped hands.  Rhoash holds her hands out to her mother, who pours the wine into them.  Rhoash bends her head and drinks deeply of the wine.

Her vision swims a little as she raises her head.  What she has not drunk from her hands has flowed back into the basin.  She sits in a daze as each woman comes to her and she pours wine from her hands into theirs so that they might drink.  Rhoash looks down at her hands when the last of the women rises and takes her place in the circle again.  They are stained with blood, Rhoash thinks in her daze.  Only one kind of wine stains the hands as red as blood, she thinks in sudden panic, Diala wine.  The ritual is that of her mother’s people, the Imban from the country.  Rhoash has the gifts of her father’s side, the Felan of the city.  “Diala wine amplifies the gifts your father passed on to you,” her mother had said, “You must always be cautious when you drink it.”

Rhoash looks up, seeing the women ringed around her not as she remembers them, but as figures overshadowed by deep shades and colors, as if she were seeing their spirits outside of their flesh.  As she gazes out among the women her head seems to clear and her vision extends to the ring of men standing behind them.  The men also glow in a rainbow of hues.

“Come so that you all may be blessed,” Rhoash hears herself saying.  She reaches her hands back into the basin to scoop up more wine.  The men come slowly at first and then in a steady stream to share in the blessing of the Goddess.  Rhoash smiles to her brother when he kneels across from her.  His eyes are wide with awe and she sees a reflection in them that is not her own, but that of a woman more beautiful than any she has seen, as if she has taken on the visage of the Goddess herself.  When the last of the men has come the circle closes again and Rhoash lets the last of the wine slip between her fingers.  She takes the basin in her arms and stands slowly.  Veznas and Penrho return to her side and they carry the basin with her to the edge of the circle and beyond to the door leading to the yard.  When their feet touch the bare ground they tip the basin together and pour out the blessings of the Goddess onto the land of this foreign city.

Rhoash leads them back into the inn where the men are already setting out the tables for the feast.  Wekol, Halbe’s wife, and the other women of the neighborhood have been preparing the various dishes since well before sunrise.  There will be roasted meats, succulent and tender with spices saved for occasions like this one; many vegetables from the gardens and fruits from the trees that grow at the inn will be served.  Rhoash was born on the eve of the fruit harvest so her celebrations always hold the promise of a cold winter and the memory of a rich harvest.

Rhoash is given the seat of honor at the high table with her mother on her right and Veznas on her left.  The meal passes by in a blur of dishes and greetings and congratulations.  Rhoash wonders if she will feel the same way when it is her daughter at the high seat.  Will I even have a daughter?  She looks out at the room, crowded with faces she has known since childhood.  She sees Thetos, her oldest friend, he is between Yenko and herself in age and the three of them did everything together when they were children.  Last year when they celebrated his entrance into manhood she said goodbye to him; they rarely see each other now.  He works with his father at their tailor shop.  Rhoash has seen him only at festivals and town meetings and on the rare occasions her mother has her deliver something to Vetos’ shop.  Vetos’ wife died three years ago during the fevers and he has no daughters to take over her place in the business.  To bring in a little extra money for the family Penrho does the fine embroidery Vetos’ wife used to do.

Rhoash does not have hands as skilled as her mother’s, so she can not help with the work.  She has taken over her mother’s duties sewing the family’s clothing instead.  Her stitching is even and sturdy, but not fine and delicate enough for the fancy dresses Vetos sells to the noblewomen.  I have no skills for use outside the home.   Yenko is learning to work leather from their father, as their other brothers did but there is nothing for her to be taught.  I will be dependent on family to protect and provide for me forever, she thinks as the final course is served.  The season’s first berries and apples are served with a dollop of cream.  Rhoash nibbles at the fruit as women continue to come to the table and wish her well.  Some talk to her mother and father when they are done, but Rhoash can not hear what they are saying.

As the younger women begin to clear away the dishes Rhoash knows that it is time to invite everyone to stay and continue the celebration with dancing and music.  She rises from her chair, feeling less steady on her feet than before.  The hall quiets when they see her standing.

“I welcome you to stay and dance with us in praise of She Who Is, let us raise a joyful music to her ears,” Rhoash recites.  She drilled herself for weeks on that one line, knowing she had to get it right as her first act as a woman.  Rhoash lets out her breath as everyone cheers and bustles about to prepare the hall.  The trestle tables are dismantled and stacked against the walls and the chairs are piled on top of them.  Rhoash slips to the back of the room as the musicians assemble and begin to play.

I don’t like dancing either.  She sighs knowing she’ll have to.  Skirts, wine and dancing, and Yenko said it was my day!  Yesterday was my last day to be myself.  Now I have to be what everyone expects me to be.  Rhoash hides in the corners of the room for as long as she can.  Her brother finds her though and drags her onto the dance floor.  Rhoash yearns for the days when they played in the trees with Thetos and tried to climb the walls to see the gardens hidden away in the nobles’ estates.  Every time their mother caught them at it she yelled and screamed, telling them they would get into trouble with the guards if they kept at it.  The only time they made it to the top the guards had caught them and brought them home by force.  The image of that garden was worth it though.  The fruit trees’ petals floated down like soft purple snow and the pool at the center reflected the bright colors of the flowers surrounding it.  That garden is still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

She tries not to trip over her brother’s feet.  The music is fast and the dance is complicated.  As soon as the song is over Rhoash makes a break for it, trying to reach the edge of the dancers before anyone else can ask for a dance.  She makes it to the bar, where Halbe and Wekol have set out juices and wines.  Rhoash takes a cup of juice and drinks slowly.  Thetos comes up beside her and takes a cup as well, raising it toward her before taking a drink.  She returns the gesture.

“Feeling like it’s over?” Thetos asks casually.  Rhoash nods, not wanting to really say it.  “I thought that too,” he says, smiling down at her.  She has to crane her neck to see him.  She is eye level with his chest when they are both standing straight.

“Was it over?” Rhoash asks as she watches the dancers.  She sees Yenko dancing with one of Halbe’s younger daughters.  Rhoash looks up when Thetos doesn’t answer her question.

“Yes and no,” he says finally, meeting her eyes.  His are a cool green with flecks of brown and blue and gold, making them dance in the fading light from the windows.  “I miss you,” she hears Thetos saying; his lips do not move.  She looks away, her brows furrowing.  She doesn’t touch people much or look at their eyes too long because of things like that.  She doesn’t want to hear other people think.  I wonder if father has this kind of problem with people too.

“How so?” she inquires to cover her discomfort.

“I don’t see you or Yenko any more for one thing,” Thetos says sullenly.  “All I do is work in the shop and take orders and deal with the books.  He hasn’t even asked me to help make anything yet.  But I get the evenings to myself more often now.  I can go to the markets in town and watch everyone parade around.  Father lets me make deliveries some days too, and I get to see the gardens from the inside,” he adds with a smug grin.

“I wish I could do that,” Rhoash replies wistfully.  She wishes for a lot of things she can’t have.

“You could work for one of the noble families,” Thetos suggests.  “They take in girls to help cook, clean, and sew all the time.  I see them when I bring the dresses and suits to the estates.  I talked to one of the girls while her mistress approved of the dress.  She sent her money home to her family and was given a place to sleep and ate with the others in the kitchens.  It doesn’t sound so bad.”  Rhoash glances up at him briefly, wondering if he is serious.

“If I’m going to cook and clean and sew I might as well stay at home and let mother do more work from your father’s shop,” she replies, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Thetos says softly, reaching a hand to pat her shoulder.  Rhoash moves away with a jerk, glancing up to see the hurt look on his face.

“I…It’s…” she trails off, not knowing how to explain.  “I have the gifts of my father’s people,” she says flatly.  “I don’t want to hear you in my head,” she adds when his expression doesn’t change.

“If you don’t want to cook and clean, maybe those gifts will help you do something else,” Thetos says softly, as he walks away.  Sadly, Rhoash watches him go.  She’s lost the one friend she always said she wouldn’t.  She fights the tears that suddenly well up inside of her.  She jumps when a hand touches her shoulder.  Turning around quickly she sighs in relief when she sees her father.

“Feel like you just lost one?” he asks in a sympathetic voice.  Rhoash nods as her father puts an arm around her shoulder and guides her to a couple of chairs beside the bar.  Why doesn’t his touch bother me like everyone else’s, she wonders fleetingly.

“I felt like I had lost all of my friends when I turned fifteen,” Ashko says, looking down at his daughter.  “It’s never as bad as it seems.  Thetos misses you,” he adds in a confidential tone.

“I know,” Rhoash says, gazing across the room to where Thetos is talking with her brother.  “I saw it in his eyes,” she adds.  “Why do I hear things when I look people in the eye too long?” she asks, looking up at her father for an answer.

“Because you have your grandmother’s gifts,” Ashko answers.

“But what does that mean?” Rhoash responds.  “What gifts?  Why are they gifts?”

“Let me tell you a tale my mother told me a long time ago,” Ashko replies.

“When the world was new, Wekashna was alone in the world, having been born of the Yenféln.  She wandered the world in search of a companion.  She met all the creatures of the field and the fish of the seas but found none that could be her companion.  So she sat down on the beach where the land and the water met.  She let her awareness cover all of creation and looked in search of a companion.  Still she found none, so she returned to the Yenféln, the great flower of life, and let a drop of her own blood fall on the petals.  The petals closed and she lay down to sleep beside the flower.  When she woke the flower opened and Múashna lay within it.

“However, Múashna lay lifeless and Wekashna had to breath part of her own life into him.  When she had done this he had life, and breath, but still was no more than any creature she had met before.  Wekashna touched Múashna’s head and his face, looking him in the eyes and willing his spirit to grow.  As she did this her own spirit reached out to touch Múashna’s, bringing it to life.  Múashna became the companion Wekashna had searched for.

“You have heard the other stories about Wekashna and Múashna, but the Imban do not tell that story,” Ashko finishes.

“Why don’t they tell that story?” Rhoash asks.

“Because they do not understand the touch of two spirits,” he replies.  “When you look into another’s eyes, or touch their bare skin, you connect with their spirit.  You do not feel it with me because you are always touching my spirit.  The same is true of you mother and brothers.  You have a connection with us that can never be broken, so you do not notice the deeper connection when you touch us.”

“Is that why it upsets people when I draw away?  When I tell them I have your gifts?” she asks, hoping for a simple answer.

“Some of them,” he replies with a smile.  “However, I think Thetos misses the closeness he was allowed when you were younger and did not notice these things.  When you were five or six he carried you home from the inn with bloodied knees and a giant lump on your head from a fall out of a tree.  Things like that confuse him now that you shy away from his touch, especially since your brother doesn’t do the same.”

“I just don’t want to pry,” Rhoash replies, lifting her hands up in appeal.  “I don’t want to be alone either,” she adds.

“You won’t be alone,” Ashko assures his daughter.  “You will always have your family,” he adds.  “And I can teach you to shield your mind against the thoughts of others so that you can interact with them normally.  We can work in the evenings when you have no more chores.”

“Will I be able to do more than that if I try?” Rhoash asks, remembering Thetos’ comment.  “Could I use my gifts to help bring in extra money or support myself alone?” she asks, realizing how daring the question is only after she has spoken it.

“Yes, you can make money with your gift.  Lost children, and lost belongings, can be found using your gifts and many will pay handsomely for that,” Ashko responds much to Rhoash’s surprise.  “You can also learn to use your gifts to heal if you can find someone to teach you,” he continues.  “There are many things you can do with your gift.”

“Will mother let me?” Rhoash asks.  My mother wants me to marry; she hopes her father will be on her side.

“Your mother wants you to be happy,” Ashko says, feeling her worry, as he always has.  “Marriage made her happy, so she thinks it can make you happy as well, and it might, but she will never say ‘no’ to you if something will make you happy.”  Rhoash smiles up at her father with hope dancing in her eyes.  “You’ll have to work hard to earn the money for a teacher if that is what you want,” he warns her.

“I will,” she says.  “I’d even work on an estate cooking or cleaning if I could learn to find things or heal people.  I’ll work hard,” she promises.

“All right,” Ashko says with an indulgent smile.  “We’ll talk to your mother tomorrow then,” he adds, standing to leave.  “I think your brother will be wanting another dance,” he adds as Yenko spots them.  Rhoash smiles up at her father and goes willingly when her brother takes her hand and leads her onto the dance floor for the final song of the evening.  Yenko twirls her around the floor laughing.  Today is not my day, but maybe tomorrow could be, she thinks as Yenko lifts her into the air.

Image Prompt 040 Response – Celestial Academy

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I selected the image from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland for my image prompt this week.  A twenty-minute sprint and a quick copy edit produced the below.  I hope you enjoy it.

Celestial Academy:

Ryan walked slowly up the steep grassy hill.  When he’d agreed to meet Xander at his school, he’d expected a university or a secondary school.  The address he’d found for Celestial Academy in Edinburgh had been at the top of the hill at one end of the city.  According to the website, the place had been some kind of memorial back in the twentieth century, but had since been repurposed for private use.  The web didn’t say what the school taught or how old the students were, just that it was highly selective and students were invited to apply.

The building was made of large gray blocks of stone, as was the wall and solid gated entrance.  Ryan could see the columns, classical pediment, and rotunda in the dim evening light.  The place was built to look like some kind of ancient Greek or Roman temple.

Ryan stopped at the gate, looking for a call box or any way to signal the inhabitants inside.  He didn’t even see any evidence of a camera or security system.  He tried pushing the door open, and found it unlocked.  It took a bit of effort to push the heavy stone door all the way open, but he managed it, and stepped through into the courtyard beyond.  There were paths paved with smooth tan rocks worn smooth with use.  The Celestial Academy was founded in 2110, over a century ago, so there’d been plenty of time for foot traffic.

As soon as Ryan let go of the door, it swung shut again with a dull thump.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet here,” Xander said from the path to the right.

Ryan hadn’t seen or heard him approach.  Xander was wearing dark blue skinny jeans and an oversized black hoodie.  Ryan felt overdressed in the gray slacks and white button down he’d worn to work that morning.

“It would only have been an issue if I needed to park a car somewhere,” Ryan replied.  He didn’t drive and Edinburgh had a great trnsit system.

“Still, I made you come all the way here,” Xander said.  “Why don’t you come inside, and I can find us a drink and a snack.”

“A drink would be nice,” Ryan replied with a smile.  “I at dinner before I came since I wasn’t sure what options there would be.”

“I didn’t even think about the timing being a problem for meals,” Xander said, turning half way to indicate they would be going back the way he came.

“If it had been a problem I wouldn’t have agreed to meet at six,” Ryan said, moving to join Xander.  “My meal schedules tend to be a bit off kilter anyway.”  His work hours were all over the place, which meant his meal breaks were too.

Xander smiled.  It lit up his whole face and made his light gray eyes sparkle.  And that was why Ryan was here.  He just couldn’t say no to a smile like that.

“Did you bring it?” Xander asked as they walked past the imposing columned porch toward the side of the building.

“Of course I did,” Ryan said, pulling his messenger bag around so he could get into the side pocket.  He pulled out the metal flask he’d filled with water from a spring near his house outside town.  Xander had been fascinated by his stories about the spring and all the legends that surrounded it.

Xander took the flask gently, his face reverent.

“I still don’t understand why it’s so important you have water from it gathered at dawn,” Ryan added.  It was the dawn part that was so baffling.  Fresh spring water was a rare commodity and Ryan knew he was lucky to live in a neighborhood that has access to one.

“I’ll show you,” Xander said, catching Ryan’s hand and pulling as he hurried around the side of the building.

Ryan’s skin tingled where Xander was touching him, and the hairs on his arms stood up as goosebumps rose along his arm.  The shiver ran all the way across his shoulders.  It was distracting enough that Ryan almost didn’t notice the weirdness as they turned the corner around the building.

Almost.

Ryan stopped, his outstretched arm pulling Xander to a halt as well.

The building was still the same, pale tan in the fading sunlight.  But everything else had changed.  There should have been more hill and grass and the rolling hills beyond.  All Ryan could see was a dazzling field of stars laid out before him like a thousand flickering candles in the dark.