The Heart of the Forest 2.09

Shadows Rise-RR

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

[Wolves Camp | Inviditas 10th, 2525 | Midmorning]

The lake was one of two places Dani could find some semblance of peace and quiet. The clearing was connected to the Wolves Camp by a narrow path, but was otherwise engulfed by forest. While the location wasn’t unknown by any means, it was rare to see anyone there for any prolonged periods of time. Dani wasn’t sure why most avoided the area, she assumed most of her clan mates just didn’t respond well to being alone with their thoughts. Whichever the reason, she had no qualms about taking advantage of it if she needed a moment, or wanted to do something away from the clan’s prying eyes.

The waters were static; undisturbed by the gentle breeze, threads of golden light shimmered across the surface as though it was smooth mirrored glass. A beautiful, calming sight; or it would be, if not for the gradual increase of pressure in her skull beginning to blur her vision. Dani hung, upside down, arms dangling inches from the lake’s surface, legs hooked over a sturdy low-hanging branch. It was uncomfortable, but her ankles weren’t bound in a trap this time, and falling would result in a dip into cold water rather than a body full of bruises. She drew a few controlled breaths, crossed her arms over her chest and gradually hoisted herself up until she felt them touch her knees. That position barely eased her existing discomfort, created several others, and she wasn’t able to hold it for very long, but compared to her initial attempts a month ago; it was remarkable progress. Dani let her herself go with a ragged breath, fingers once again inches from skimming the surface of the lake. It was still too early in the day for the water to have warmed from the early spring sun. It would be a cold dive should her legs refuse to hold her weight further.

 

“What are you doing?”

The question was sudden enough to almost startle Dani into a premature descent. The voice came from a spot just beyond the scope of her peripheral vision, but she’d become familiar with it in the past month. “Maddie. What are you doing here?”

“The camp is getting way too crowded. I don’t understand all the excitement over the Hourglass ceremony. I thought it was supposed to be this solemn thing.” Madeline stepped forward, closer to the edge of the lake and into Dani’s view. “Why are you upside down?”

“I’m practicing.”

“I thought your mother said no training today.” Madeline sat by the edge of the water. “Practicing what exactly?”

“Being upside down,” Dani choked out through a coarse breath. “Long story.”

“Alright.” Maddie looked up at her with an air of amusement. “So, what’s the deal with the ceremony tonight?”

Dani glanced at Maddie with a soft snort. “You really want to have a conversation now?”

“It can wait until you’re finished,” Maddie paused, reciting her next words slowly as if trying to push past a thin layer of disbelief, “being upside down.”

Dani chuckled, letting herself drop into the lake. The water was nowhere near the freezing temperatures it had been just a few weeks ago, but still cold enough to shock the exhaustion out of her muscles. She lingered underneath the surface of the water, opening her eyes to watch the swirling shimmer of sunlight piercing the depths. Only when her already aching lungs began to protest did she finally emerge.  She found Madeline leaning close to the margin as if worried about her not coming up. “I could pull you in so easily right now. You’re lucky I’m so nice.”

Madeline shook her head and backed away, sitting down on the grass once again. “I keep hearing that. I think you people genuinely don’t know the definition of that word.”

“Which word? Nice?” Dani grinned. “I think we are. Aren’t we?”

“I think that’s debatable, and there are many people in Valcrest who would disagree.”

Dani’s smile faltered, but didn’t fade away entirely. “I forget you haven’t completely washed away your Newhaven stench. Maybe a dip in the lake would fix it.”

Madeline rolled her eyes at the threat. “No, thank you.”

Dani huffed a trace of laughter, expelling some excess water from her nose in the process. “Sooner or later, just you wait.” She pushed herself out of the lake and wrung some water from the ends of her hair. Reaching behind the tree she had been perched on, she pulled out her travel bag. “It’s been nice having a training buddy this past month; truly, but I need to change out these clothes before I catch a cold and we’re not that close yet, so . . . Turn around please.”

Madeline flinched but obeyed. “You’re not worried someone’s going to walk in here?”

“Never happened until today. What are the odds it’s going to happen twice?” Dani opened the bag and pulled out a soft cloth towel to dry herself with.

“Every Wolf aside from those residing in the cities has been called back to camp and most have already arrived. So I’d say they’re greater than usual.” Madeline pointed out.

Dani hummed softly, her tone distracted as she focused on changing out of her drenched clothes. “Haven’t seen them. I was here all morning.” The soft smile that formed on her lips translated into a cheerful intonation. “I look forward to seeing the camp busy and cheerful tonight though. It’s going to be fun.”

Madeline made a confused sound. “Fun?”

“Right. You were asking me about the ceremony. It is your first year participating after all.” Dani finished dressing and fetched her boots, coming to sit next to the older recruit. “You know how the Newhaveners move the date of the Hourglass Night when a King or Queen dies, right?” She contemplated her boots for a moment, but set them aside, rolling up her pant legs and dipping her bare feet into the river. “You can look now, by the way. I’m done.”

Madeline turned around so that she was facing the lake once more. “Yes, I know.”

“Well, we do something similar here. When an Alpha or Beta dies, we move the date. It has been that way ever since the ceremony was created. With one exception.” Dani sighed, leaning back into her hands and stirring the waters with her feet. “Sixteen years ago, on this date, my father died. He wasn’t an Alpha, or a Beta, but his death affected my mother; and the clan, in such a way that tradition was broken.”

“I thought Tom was your father.”

“Tom is Sarah’s father.”

Madeline frowned, her question hesitant. “What about Lena’s father?”

Dani snorted a laugh. “Lena was adopted before I was born. Mom didn’t change her name out of respect for her birth mother, but we don’t talk about her father.”

Madeline nodded. “So your father was the first non-Alpha, non-Beta Wolf to move the Hourglass Night. How does that affect the ceremony?”

“The ceremony hasn’t changed. It’s what happens after that’s changed. The first Hourglass Night after my dad died, the clan was glum, my first birthday was only five days away . . . And my mother decided that he wouldn’t have wanted his family to mourn, more importantly; he wouldn’t have wanted me sad so close to my birthday every year. So she decided that once the solemn hour came to an end, we would throw a party. And ever since, that’s what we do; we mourn and then we have a party. It’s the only night where alcohol is allowed in camp.”

“Drunk Wolves,” Madeline grinned. “Interesting.”

“It tends to be, yes.” Dani’s smile saddened as she watched the canopy above. “Bright clear sunny day today . . . I bet he’d say we’re lucky he died in spring.”

“That’s dark.”

“Sooner or later, we all go,” Dani mumbled. “We’re born knowing that. What matters is what you do until then.”

Madeline sighed. “That’s darker. Being born knowing you’re going to die.”

Dani chuckled. “Death gave us mortality, Mads. It’s a gift. That’s the whole point of the Hourglass Night, to mourn our losses and remember that our time is valuable precisely because it runs out. Like sand to the bottom of an hourglass.”

Madeline followed her gaze, momentarily watching the slivers of blue sky peering from behind the tree branches. “Your father died before you were even born. Is that a gift to you?”

“I never met him. People like to talk about how much I take after him, that I have the same spirit, and I can’t describe how much hearing that hurts. On the other hand . . . Sarah exists and her life is definitely a gift to me.” Dani kicked her feet underwater and glanced at Madeline. “It’s easy to think that Death is always a bad thing—no one wants to die, or see someone they love die—but truth is . . . Nothing is black and white like that.”

“That’s a fair point, I guess.” Madeline snorted. “If it helps, I have no idea about my father either. I don’t think even my mother knew for sure who he was.”

“You were an accident, then?”

“More like an occupational hazard; her words, not mine.” Madeline offered a rueful smile. “She wasn’t a great mother. Best she taught me was to effectively uncover people’s dirt, or their wants, and use them for manipulation.”

“Huh. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you my tragic backstory, then.”

“You’re too smart for those sorts of tactics.”

Dani laughed. “Come on, now.”

“You think I’m joking, but you’d be surprised how often that type of flattery works. People always like to think they’re the smartest in the room. Nobles especially. Noble men most of all.”

Dani shook her head. “Newhaven sounds exhausting when you put it like that.”

“It is. Don’t get me wrong, the City itself; the real City of Newhaven, is an incredible place in many ways. The lies the crown likes to sell, though? This immaculate image of the ‘First City’? It’s all crap. Closer to the Noble District you go, the smellier the bullshit.”

Dani hummed under her breath, giving Madeline a brief contemplative glance, then grabbing her and pushing her into the lake.

Madeline thrashed in the water and pushed herself to the surface with an angered huff. She shook her head in an attempt to keep the ends of her short hair from sticking to her face and fixed Dani with a furious glare. “What the hell!”

“Huh. I guess a dip in the lake didn’t help.” Dani grinned, getting on her feet and holding out her hand to help Madeline out. “Don’t worry though, we’ll make a Wolf out of you yet.”

[Wolves Camp | Inviditas 10th, 2525 | Nightfall]

Dani sat by the lake all morning and the greater part of the afternoon. No else stopped by after Madeline left. It had become  usual for her in the past couple of years to avoid the crowded encampment until it was time for the whole clan to gather. It was no surprise that she hadn’t been sought after throughout the day. When the sun began its descent and the golden rays of sunlight darkened to orange, then to red, she finally abandoned her seclusion and rejoined the clan. Some of the people crowding the center of camp were retired Wolves; released of their oath by the Alpha and granted permission to return for this one occasion every year. Seeing some of them again was like being visited by estranged aunts and uncles. Dani didn’t really know most of them too well, but all of them had something to say about her father, or about how she was only a small ‘pup’ when they left and look at her now. Never mind the fact it’d only been a year since they were there last. Never mind that they’d had the exact same conversation then as well.

Dani endured the bear hugs, the shoulder pats, and smiled through their cheerful reminiscences. It was bothersome, but, at the same time, seeing how fondly her father was remembered and receiving even a small fraction of that affection warmed her heart.

Once she managed to duck away from all that attention, Dani looked around for her sisters. Sarah stuck to her mother’s side, looking chipper and no doubt pleading to be the one to turn the Hourglass during the ceremony. Thomas oversaw the workers, releasing them from duty as soon as their part of the preparations were complete. The incoming darkness commanded the ceremony to begin; for everything to be ready before it swallowed the encampment whole, and it was the Beta’s job to see it done. Lena, however, was nowhere in sight. Dani walked over to her mother and sister, and as soon as she was within earshot, she chuckled.

“. . . When do I get to do it?”

“When you’re older, love. It’s still your sister’s role for now.”

“Dani won’t mind if I do it.”

“I’m sure your sister would let you have the clothes off her back should you ask, but that doesn’t mean they belong to you, now does it?” Claire’s amusement was palpable.

Sarah sighed, defeated. “No. But it’s not fair. I can’t even stay for the party later.”

“There are a great many things you can presently enjoy which your sisters have been forced to leave behind. They can’t go back just as you can’t grow up any faster. That’s the order of things.”

“It’s not fair, I agree,” Dani chimed in, playfully poking her sister on the sides. “We should let Lena hang you by the ankles while I sit in and do math problems.”

Sarah rolled her eyes and shoved Dani’s hand away. “I’d take that over math problems any day.”

“I’ll be sure to let her know.” Dani momentarily grinned, but as she glanced around yet again, there was still no sign of Lena. “Where is she anyway?”

“Sarah, please go ask your father if all preparations are still on schedule, please.”

Sarah offered them both a suspicious glare, but ran off to find her father. Claire waited until she was out of earshot before answering the question. “Lena will be here. I spoke to her this morning and she informed me that Eldric was having some trouble with the prospect of attending the ceremony tonight. It has come to my attention that his emotional state has been somewhat unstable this past month.”

Dani snorted softly. “Yeah, she told me the whole thing is starting to hit him.”

Claire nodded. “The fact that he has been spending a very noticeable amount of time in your sister’s cabin has also been generating comments. Which, his father is surely displeased by.”

“As far as I’m concerned he can take his displeasure and shov—”

“Daniela,” Claire warned, pushing back a slight trace of amusement from her voice. “That attitude won’t do anything to help your sister’s situation or Eldric’s. I suggest you stay out of it.”

“I have no intention to get involved in that mess. I just think the whole thing is ridiculous. Eldric is an adult. If daddy doesn’t agree with his choices he needs to stand up and deal with it.”

“Fair point, but I suppose now isn’t the time to demand that from him either.”

Dani frowned; of course her mother was right, she had no idea what Eldric’s head was like since he survived that encounter with the Hunters and, exasperated as she was, adding more stress on top of it wasn’t her intention. “No. Of course not.”

“If he’s chosen your sister to confide in, the best we can do is hope she’s able to handle that for herself. And if Reuben needs a reminder to maintain his composure; well, that’s my job isn’t it? At least for now.”

“Don’t joke about that, mom. Not tonight.”

“Far from me to joke about such things,” Claire said, her serious tone offset by the trace of a smirk. “It’ll be a dark, silent, excruciatingly long hour of us all, love. But it’s only one hour.”

Dani nodded, holding back a tired sigh. In the distance she heard a few friendly remarks indicating Eldric had joined the clan for the first time that day. There was no sign of Lena until the camp was almost fully dark. Without the usual flicker of torches and the orange glow of the campfire, it was hard to make out the figures and faces crowding the central clearing. Dani only noticed Lena’s arrival when she felt a hand briefly on her shoulder. In the distance, she caught notice of Tom, navigating the crowded camp with Sarah in his arms. As the darkness engulfed the encampment the cheerful atmosphere began to shift. The chorus of high-spirited voices died out and a heavy silence filled the air.

Tom put Sarah down next to Dani and the younger girl situated herself by clutching her hand. The clan was then left to wait in silence as the Alpha and Beta walked the path to the Alpha’s cabin to retrieve the Hourglass. The wait was part of the process, it served as a cooldown period from the frantic preparations and the happy reunions. Likewise, the walk to and from the Alpha’s cabin was to be conducted in absolute silence.

The Hourglass Night was the only night where the entire camp gathered at once. Every man, woman, and child; regardless of their role or lack thereof. From the very first Night she could remember, the sight always made her think that if the Twins could look down on them from above—as some seemed to believe—they must all look like a swarm of ants had taken over the forest. Families would normally stand together, smaller children clinging to their parents in the dark, much like Sarah had clung to Dani’s hand. The majority of them were too young to fully understand the ritual.

As Dani’s eyes started adjusting to the dark, more and more faces became distinguishable. Most of the adults had their heads lowered in silent contemplation. The younger members of the clan were a mix of boredom and confusion, but tried to the best of their abilities to emulate their parents and remain silent. Eldric and Emmett were standing with their father, Madeline was standing just a few steps away from them, occasionally glancing in Emmett’s direction as if unsure of what was supposed to happen next. It occurred to Dani that she probably should have given a more practical explanation of what the ceremony would be. It wasn’t too different from what was done in Newhaven, but it wouldn’t surprise her to learn Maddie had never participated in one so public as this before. With the corner of her eye, she chanced a small glance at Lena. She also kept her head down, eyes fixed on a random spot on the ground. If she wanted to ask anything about her well-being this wouldn’t be the time to do it. The silence was so intense that even the slightest shift of a boot against soil was loud enough to be frowned upon. Dani held back a small sigh and resigned to keeping her head down as well.

However many minutes it took to walk to and from the Alpha’s cabin, it felt like hours. Her parents’ approaching footsteps echoed amidst the clan’s introspective silence. Once they came to a halt, Dani raised her head to watch her mother, as did the entire clan.

Claire stood, holding the hourglass in her hands. The object was ancient; it had stood in the Alpha’s cabin since the dawn of the Wolfpack. Unlike most hourglasses in Valcrest, this one contained no golden sand, only red. It was rumored to originally contain golden sand, but the Wolfpack’s losses had been so great that no living Wolf had memory of seeing it and no written records existed supporting those claims. Beyond the red sand, it was a simple object; smooth glass framed by the same dark wood which constituted the Alpha’s cabin itself.

As the clan’s attentions gradually fell on the Alpha, Claire drew a deep breath, preparing to disrupt the silence, and when she spoke it was soft, just loud enough to be heard by all. “First and foremost, I would like to thank you all for being here. Especially those of you who took time away from your new lives specifically to be here tonight. Those of you who have stood here and watched my father stand where I am today, my grandfather before him,” she briefly smiled. “More than any other people in Valcrest, Lady Death is a constant presence in our lives. We are, for all intents and purposes, her most loyal agents. However, we are by no means untouchable. We are not immune. Any other day, any other night, we should face that reality stone-faced and resolute. We are supposed to be, above anything else, unbreakable. We suffer our losses, no matter how grave, and we move forward because even one solitary moment of weakness can prove catastrophic. Especially now.” Claire’s gaze scanned the faces before her, each and every one. “Any other night, I would be the one to instill this notion within the core of this clan. I should be the one to demand that unyielding strength from each and every one of you. Because, as we’ve already witnessed this year; the moment one of us falters, the Wolfpack is severely wounded, but tonight . . . . Tonight I also have to be the first to admit that I have been deeply saddened by every single life lost to this conflict. Not just in this past year, but from the very beginning. For the past sixteen years, I’ve been angry, broken hearted, and exhausted. I know that for many of you this past year has been especially difficult in that regard. I can’t realistically predict how and when all of this will end. I can make no promises one way or another, but I can offer you this one night to mourn your losses. To be angry, broken hearted, and weak.”

Claire turned and held out the hourglass for Dani to take, briefly smiling as she deposited the full weight of the object onto her hands. “Before we turn the Hourglass tonight, I invite you all to honor those who deserved to be standing here tonight by speaking their names.” Once again she gave pause, allowing the clan a moment to breathe. Over the silence, a few sharp snifflings could be heard along with faint sobs. Once the moment passed, she lowered her head in a respectful bow, placed her right hand over heart—a gesture mirrored by the rest of the clan—and recited, one by one, the names of the Wolves whose lives had been lost since last year’s ceremony. Each name was immediately echoed by the rest of the clan in perfect unison: “Stuart Barnett, Kiera Bellamy, Elliott Whelan, Bartholomew Wade, Deirdre Hardwick, Emma Draper, Abigail Speight, Gale Logan, Nicole Pearce, Bryce Attaway, Elijah Howard,” all except for the very last one.

The name was met with some level of resistance. “Edward Feany.” Many Wolves present remained silent—Lena among them—while the remainder of the clan repeated his name. Dani looked up at her mother, unsure whether she should turn the Hourglass or not after this display. Despite a disapproving scowl marking her features, the Alpha offered no verbal admonition and simply reached to place her hand on top the Hourglass’ wooden frame, keeping it there until every single Wolf present relented and spoke Edward’s name. And although Lena was the first of the group to do so, the scolding look she was given as Claire released the Hourglass indicated that, for her at least, the verbal admonition would eventually come.

As the final whispers of Edward Feany’s name were finally scattered into the night, Dani turned the Hourglass at last.

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

The Plotstains Perspective 2.07/2.08

Hello and welcome to an incredibly special episode of The Plotstains Perspective! Why is it so special? It’s a double feature! That’s right! You get two this time! And if you think it’s because I forgot to write one for chapter 2.07 when it was released, you’d be absolutely correct. So let’s just ignore that detail and pretend like I’m doing something special. Agreed? Great! 

As always, I recommend that you read the chapters I’m going to be talking about before you read the previous chapters, I’d recommend you go do that. Here’s chapter 2.07 and here’s chapter 2.08.

Today, I mostly want to talk about killing an old lady. Sylvie is an interesting character. As I discussed in my previous Plotstains Perspective, she proves a threat to learning anything about the Wolf Hunters. This means that Sylvie needs to be removed from the picture in order for Lena to do her work. And this is where the problem lies. 

You see, this time around, as opposed to a detailed outline which dictated the path Arc 1 took, we decided to make a bullet note of all the major plot points we want to have happen for Arc 2. When Lena faced off against Sylvie, we hadn’t anticipated that she’d be such a major roadblock and killing her seemed like the only way around this problem. As author and editor, Blackbird and I had to come to a difficult choice. Do we kill her or not? Well, we decided, yeah, she has to go, obviously, if we want any chance of plot progressing. So we wrote out a scene where Lena, Dani, and the Alpha discuss just that.


Then we published the chapter.

Oh wait, this is a fantasy world. Magic exists. Right! We don’t need to kill her. All we need to do is make sure we can block the magic somehow. That’s what we get for being pantsers. The answer is right in front of us, but we don’t know it until we publish the chapter where the characters are too stupid to come to the conclusion, either. 

Now that isn’t to say we just pull these fixes to our problems from out of our asses. A lot of complex thought goes into any decision we make such as this. The character we’re introduced to in chapter 2.08 always existed and the only difference is that now we have a good reason to use her in more than just the purpose we intend her for later down the line (whether that purpose was large or small is not something I’ll disclose. Maybe she was originally just supposed to say a single line later in the series or maybe she saves the world from aliens. You won’t know until later, folks. Sorry). 

And further, for as little as I know about the plot, I know some of the more exciting details that are going to happen, and I can’t wait until I can talk about some of those with you here. Until then, we can continue talking about killing old ladies, I guess. 

Sylvie is an interesting character to me. Interesting because we’ve seen her interact with both the Wolf Hunters and the Wolfpack and she doesn’t seem to treat them any differently. The closest we get to seeing a different side of her is when Lena’s enlightenment is blocked. It does make me wonder some things about the lady. Presumably, if she’s like Lena in any way, she’s been able to look into the minds of some of the characters. Considering the characters she’s interacted with thus far, she might be the most knowledgeable character in the entire series. All the characters who have interacted with her have their secrets. Hell, I’d love to know more about Jo and her past, but like hell if she’ll ever be open enough to tell anyone about it. Girl’s as quiet as a mouse. 

I want to know what this lady knows. I want to know why she treats all of these killers with so much respect if she does know anything about them. I want to see if she has a bigger part to play in this story. Maybe killing her is the right choice, considering how dangerous she might be to any one of our beloved characters. We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we? 

Happy reading,

Plotstains

The Heart of The Forest 2.08

Shadows Rise

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

[Wolves Camp | Sagacitas 8th, 2525 |Midday]

Lena stirred with the creak of her front door. The invading footsteps were cautious, but familiar. Of the few people who would venture into her cabin unannounced, Eldric’s heavy boots stood apart from Dani’s much lighter footfall and the pitter patter of Sarah’s sandals. Lena was surprised to discover Eldric away from camp upon leaving the Alpha’s cabin the other day and although Tom later confirmed that he was granted permission to accompany Emmett and his suspension was not yet lifted, he wouldn’t tell her what they were off doing.

She remained motionless as the footsteps lingered in her living room, and didn’t bother opening her eyes upon hearing them slowly approach the bedroom. A stifled huff of laughter sounded from the doorway. “Come on, now. I know you’re not still asleep.”

Eldric’s voice was soft and amused, but Lena picked up the hint of travel fatigue looming underneath. Still, she ignored his accusation, and pulled her blankets up over her head with a fitful noise. Eldric paced across the room, his feet knocking against stray rolls of parchment littering the floor. His weight pressed down on the edge of the bed, causing the wooden frame to creak in protest. “Helena, come on,” he called out, lightly tugging on the edge of the blankets to uncover her face. Lena kept a vice grip on the blankets, forcing him to let go with an annoyed groan. “I swear on all the Twins, I will tickle you if I have to.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Ah,” Eldric exclaimed, triumphantly. “Never thought I’d see the day I’d be the one to scold you for being lazy. Yet, here we are.”

Lena huffed under her blankets, but pushed them aside to shoot Eldric a glare. “I’m not lazy, I’m trying to make the most out of a day off. My mother wants to see me later and I have a feeling she’s about to push another assignment on me. As if Dani wasn’t enough of a handful.”

“She relies on you,” Eldric offered. “I know for a fact many in the clan would give their right arm for that kind of high regard.”

“And they’re idiots to think that way.” Lena sighed. “There’s a very distinct line, El, between having a conversation with my mother and addressing the Alpha. Failure weighs twice as heavy on my shoulders than it would anyone else in the clan. That high regard people like to envy? It’s called expectations.”

“Whether it’s your mother or the Alpha you’re dealing with, if she has such high expectations of you, then she considers you capable of meeting them. Trust me, that is something to envy.”

Lena sat up. Eldric was still in his travel clothes, his hair was messy and his face unshaven, she reached out to lightly scratch the side of his face. “Did you just get home? You look like a drifter.”

Eldric snorted, taking her hand in his and lowering it. “I’ve been back in camp for about half an hour. I’ve been sitting in your mother’s office watching Emmett describe all the nothing we uncovered.”

“Where did you go?”

“Iceforge. It’s north of Blackpond. Blacksmithing village. I’m not sure what sort of lead Emmett was pursuing; he was allowed to bring me, but not share any information. Whatever it was didn’t pan out, apparently.”

“How was traveling with your brother?”

“Awkward and draining. How was traveling with your sister?”

“Oh, it was lovely. Dani’s great.”

Eldric shot her a look of pure skepticism. “Come on. You’ve spent the past year, give or take, complaining about how much of a brat Dani’s been.”

“Oh, she absolutely is, but Dani likes being in the forest, she loves camping, she pulls her own weight, never complains that she’s tired. . . Traveling with her is a breeze.”

Eldric snorted softly. “At least one of us had a good time.”

Lena gave his hand a small squeeze before working hers free. “You need to give Emmett a chance, El. He’s been really trying since he came back.”

“I know, but just because he’s trying doesn’t mean I owe him anything. Emmett is a smooth talker, always has been, and I’m sure it’s easy for everyone to think I’m being a jerk because he’s such a great guy, but the reality is he did nothing but make my life harder while he was around and then he left. If he wanted my forgiveness he would have asked for it. What he actually wants is for me to ‘get over it’ so he never has to own up to anything.”

Lena sighed softly. “Fair enough. Have you actually said any of this to him?”

“Emmett isn’t a child. I shouldn’t have to explain to him that he needs to apologize,” Eldric scoffed.

“Maybe you shouldn’t, but if you want to forgive him, odds are you may have to spell something out, maybe draw him a picture. You’re assuming he won’t apologize because he thinks he’s done nothing wrong, but maybe he just assumes trying to make up to you already counts as an apology and you’re just not accepting it. And if that’s the case; I know that’s difficult for you, but it may be necessary to confront your brother and tell him you need to hear it.”

“Or. . .” he said, drawing out his sounds as if to make his next point stick. “He could stop being an idiot so I don’t have to.”

Lena shook her head, unable to hold back a laugh. “Runs in the family, then.”

“What does?”

“You just said Emmett wants you to get over things so he doesn’t have to confront it and here you are admitting that it bothers you because you don’t want to confront him about it.” Eldric stared back at her as though he was trying to read a foreign language written in minuscule handwriting. Lena shook her head, reaching out to pat the top of his head. “Think about it again after you’ve gotten some sleep.”

Eldric frowned, but immediately relaxed when Lena proceeded to sift her fingers through his hair. “I brought you a sandwich.”

Lena proceeded to lightly scratch the back of his head, smirking as he leaned into the touch with a distracted hum. “Why did you bring me a sandwich?”

“Because. . . ” Eldric trailed off, trying to keep his focus under the attention, eyes starting to close. “Your mother said no one saw you come out today. And I know how you get.”

Lena hummed. “How do I get?”

“You shove your face in a book all day and you forget to eat,” Eldric murmured, halfway asleep.

“Mhm. I guess I do get like that sometimes.” Lena smiled, her touch slowing to a halt. “Have you gotten something to eat already?”

“Yes.” Eldric opened his eyes blearily. “Sorry. We decided to travel overnight and I haven’t,” his sentence was broken by a violent yawn. “Sorry.”

“I figured as much.” She moved her hand away and scooted over, patting the empty space at her side. “Take off your boots and come to bed.”

Eldric shook his head, standing up. “I’ve been traveling all night. I should go home, my clothes are dirty and I stink.”

Lena snorted and pulled him back down by the hand. “Boots off, Fletcher, it’s nap time. Come on.”

“I’m not a five-year-old,” Eldric muttered, “. . . Nap time.”Despite the complaints, he kicked his boots off, laying down on the empty spot beside her with an exhausted sigh. “Go eat your sandwich.”

“I will in a minute,” Lena answered, settling down next to him. “Close your eyes.”

******

The sun was just starting to lower when Eldric began to rouse from sleep. Lena was still occupying her side of the bed, fully dressed, her attention divided between the pages of a book and the markings of a lit candle on the nightstand.

“Did you eat before shoving your face in that book?” he croaked.

“Yes. It was delicious, thank you.”

Eldric snorted, stretching. “I didn’t make it, I just delivered it.”

“In that case,” she smirked, “it was a little dry. It did arrive in good condition, though.”

“That’s good to know. If your mother decides I need a new function, I can deliver food to all the lazy bums in camp.”

Lena glanced at him over the book’s pages. “Do you want me to kick you off this bed, Fletcher?”

Eldric held his hands up defensively. “I should be getting up anyway. I still smell like a muddy sheep.” His gaze falls on the candle. “At what time are you supposed to go see your mother?”

“In twenty minutes.” Lena’s gaze remained on the book as she flipped the page. “If you want to spend the night here, you can let yourself in after you get the smell of sheep off.” She shot him a brief glance, another smirk tracing her lips. “I’ve decided not to question that.”

“It’s my coat. The ground was wet where we camped yesterday.” Eldric frowned, watching her eyes move across the page. “I’m assuming you uncovered something in your expedition and that’s what your mother wants to discuss.”

Lena stopped reading, her gaze fixed in the center of the open book. “You know that if I did, it’s my mother’s decision how and when to disclose that information. And while I often disagree with that, this isn’t one of those times.”

“You can’t even confirm or deny whether you found something?”

Lena lowered the book. “Don’t try to persuade me, El. You know that anything pertaining to the Wolf Hunters is sensitive information. Not just because of what happened with Eddie, but because of how riled up everyone is. Including you. Especially you.”

“Can you imagine anyone in this camp being so sure they’re going to die that the only thing they can do is swallow their ring so it doesn’t get taken from their corpse? Because I couldn’t until I witnessed it that night.” Eldric let out a shaken breath and slid to the edge of the bed. “It’s an eye opener; it really is.”

“Why do you think they take them?” Lena closed her book and set it aside, watching the back of his head as his shoulders dropped. She scooted closer and let her hand rest on his shoulder. “The Wolf Hunters know they can’t kill every single one of us, but they can break us. And if you let them get into your head, that’s one step closer for them.”

“Keeping me locked up in here. . . I know your mother means well, but it isn’t helping.”

“If doing something, no matter what, is more important to you right now than finding a way to end this, then you need to step back. For your sake and the clan’s, El.” Lena spared another brief glance at the candle and sighed. “I need to go or I’ll be late. Listen, go take a bath, chenge, burn that coat and. . . We can talk about this later. Maybe after this meeting I’ll be able to tell you something.”

Eldric snorted and shook his head. “The coat doesn’t stink that bad.”

Lena gave his shoulder a few pats before removing her hand. “Yes, it does,” she said, reaching for her boots. “Will you be here when I get back?”

“Depends on how long that meeting will take. You might be back before I am,” Eldric mumbled, fetching his own boots. “But, yes, I’ll be back.”

“Alright.” Lena gave his shoulder one more reassuring squeeze as she stood. “I’ll see you later, then.”

Eldric reached for her hand before she had a chance to pull it away and held it in his. Lena flinched, expecting he would have something else to say. He didn’t speak, instead his thumb traced the silver band around her ring finger. The gesture brought forth an odd sensation of awareness towards something she’d worn for so long it had become a part of her. “El. . . I really have to get going.”

Eldric nodded, giving her hand a gentle squeeze before letting go. “I’ll see you later.”

******

Upon reaching the Alpha’s cabin Lena was greeted by a closed door. Her mother hadn’t informed her there would be other participants in this meeting, and the closed door indicated that not only was she late, but there were other Wolves already there ahead of her. She knocked on the door and peered in. Her mother was sitting in her usual place behind the desk, across from her were Emmett and a girl Lena didn’t really know. She had seen her in camp, knew Emmett had recruited her last year, but that was it. They never spoke, and Lena had never even properly heard her name.

“Welcome,” her mother greeted, beckoning her closer and indicating the empty seat to Emmett’s right. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Lena closed the door behind her and took a seat. “I’m sorry I’m late. Something came up.”

“That’s alright.” Claire nodded towards the girl sitting beside Emmett. “This is Madeline Sauver, she has been with us since Obitus last year. Have you two had a chance to meet yet?”

“No, I don’t believe we have.” Lena offered Madeline an acknowledging nod. “I’m assuming this relates to the situation we discussed during my briefing?”

“Yes, it does. See, Emmett recruited Madeline with the suggestion that she become a Scout. This suggestion stemmed from her previous experience as a mercenary. And it so happens Madeline has an enlightenment that may prove useful now, considering our predicament.”

“Is that so?”

“I can prevent other Enlightened from affecting me,” Madeline chimed in, “the White Shadows referred to it as ‘suppression’.”

Lena hummed. “Will this work with telepathy as well?”

“It should. I’ve never come across any enlightenment I couldn’t suppress as long as they’re within my radius.”

“It works by proximity? If that’s the case, a telepath that can affect the mind in a wider radius, could possibly by-pass this.”

“I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t tested it beyond what was necessary.”

“That’s for you to determine,” Claire said. “I’ve already discussed with Madeline and Emmett what her assignment will be, but I’m leaving it entirely up to you if or when Madeline is prepared to go. Since this woman’s enlightenment behaves similarly to yours, it would make sense for you to be the one to test her limitations.”

Lena raised an eyebrow. “You want me to actually use my enlightenment on another person?”

“Yes. I understand the risks, but it would be far more dangerous to send Madeline out without being sure she won’t be discovered.”

“You understand the risks, good. Does she?” Lena nodded towards Madeline. “Because I don’t think anyone would volunteer for this.”

“Mind your tone, Helena,” Claire warned. “Everyone in this room is aware of your abilities. Do try to keep in mind that I am responsible for the well being of all members of this clan.”

Lena let out a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that’s not the case, but what you’re asking me to do is a lot riskier than a simple spar. Broken bones heal.”

“I believe you are perfectly capable of conducting this safely,” Claire said, cutting Lena off with a raised hand when she tried to interject, “even if you don’t.”

“Can’t say I share that trust, my own personal experience considered,” Emmett finally spoke up with a casual shrug, “But Maddie seems confident that you won’t be able to get past her barriers, and this is a vital task. If she’s unable to pull this off, there isn’t anyone else in the clan who would, and this becomes another dead end.”

Lena looked past Emmett to where Madeline was sitting. She held her head up, her gaze moved from one speaker to the next attentively, the small crease in her forehead more and more prominent as the conversation moved without acknowledgment that she was present. Yet, she didn’t seem comfortable enough to speak openly in front of the Alpha. She still saw herself as an outsider; even within this room, which begged a very important question. “What’s in it for you?”

Madeline met Lena’s gaze and her eyes narrowed briefly; a hint of offense she kept separated from the confusion in her voice. “Sorry?”

“If you understand the risks and you’re willing to take them, I would like to know why. If you were recruited in Obitus last year, you’ve been with us for, give or take, four months now? I doubt you would have even heard of the Wolf Hunters before that. It can’t be that you’re just that eager to catch them.”

Madeline nodded. “You’re right, I’m not as emotionally involved in fighting the Wolf Hunters as someone who grew up in the Pack or even someone who’s been here for longer, but I doubt they would care to make that distinction. They wouldn’t stop to ask how long I’ve been a Wolf or whether or not I’ve taken my oath yet; assuming they even know it exists. If you want to be skeptical about my motives being altruistic. . . At the very least you should know I’m not stupid enough to think this doesn’t affect my own survival.”

“If you’re worried about your survival, the easiest way to ensure it would be to leave. You haven’t actually taken your oath yet, right? Emmett is sitting here because he’s still responsible for you.”

“Emmett recruited me because he felt I would be useful, I know he didn’t do it because he likes me. And I accepted because being here has its perks. The simplest explanation I can give is that nothing in this job’s description is nearly as immoral as Newhaven can be. Especially for a mercenary. The people who are willing and able to pay for a sellsword or a spy are far from upstanding citizens, if you catch my drift.”

“You got sick of being a pawn for rich idiots, you mean?”

“Yes.” Madeline smiled. “Long story short, that’s it. If you want to know more than that, I guess you’re welcome to try and find out.”

Emmett snorted. “You’re signing your own death sentence if you’re gonna provoke her, kid. Just putting that out there.”

Lena rolled her eyes. “Shut up.”

“You know I’m not wrong. Show me where I’m wrong.”

“Children, enough.” Claire sighed. “Helena, this is your assignment. You are welcome to decline, but take into consideration how it might set us back.”

Lena ran both hands over her eyes, whatever levity Emmett’s little jab had brought was immediately snuffed out. “I don’t feel I have a choice. Emmet’s right—he’s an idiot, but he’s right. This is a vital task.”

“Will you be able to take on this task and maintain Daniela’s training routine intact? If not, I can temporarily reassign her,” Claire offered.

“No. She won’t accept that and I’m not going to risk what little progress we’ve made. I can handle it.”

Claire frowned. “Are you sure? I need you to be realistic with how much work you’re able to undertake at once.”

“I can do it.” Lena shrugged. “If this kid here is as good as she thinks she is, it won’t be a problem, will it?”

“I’m nineteen,” Madeline argued. “Would you mind not calling me ‘kid’?”

Lena masked any trace of surprise, but gave her an inspecting glance. Madeline was short and fresh-faced; she could easily pass for a fifteen-year-old. Normally this sort of miscalculation would warrant an apology, but for as long as she was Lena’s responsibility, they wouldn’t be having that type of relationship. Lena shook her head. “We’ll see if you earn it first.”

Madeline scoffed. “I thought it was just Emmett, but looks like all Instructors are stuck-up jerks, huh?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Emmett said. “Hate to be the one to tell you, but we’re actually the nice ones. Some Instructors out there, if their Recruits don’t try to murder them before lunch time, they’re not pushing ‘em hard enough.”

“I’d love to say he’s joking, but he’s not,” Lena added before turning her attention back to her mother. “If there’s nothing else, it’s still my day off.”

“There’s nothing else for now, but I would like you to keep me informed on your progress.” Claire offered her a brief smile. “Please remind Eldric that my door remains open, if there’s anything he’d like to discuss.”

“Of course.” Lena stood, sparing Madeline another short glance on her way out the door. “Training grounds, sunrise. I have a schedule to keep, so don’t be late.”

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

The Heart of The Forest 2.07

Shadows Rise

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

[Unnamed Village | Lunaris 28th, 2525 | Sundown]

The sun bathed the small village in a red-orange glow. Lena kept a watchful eye on her sister running around with some of the local children. It was no surprise that she managed to chip away at their shyness over the course of an afternoon. Dani knew how to draw people in, no matter their age. Even within the Wolfpack, there were those who teased her; who doubted her future leadership skills, who were aggravated by her louder and messier antics; but not a single soul in that camp could claim they disliked her. Likewise, as the hours burned away, Dani made the rounds chatting up the locals, learning all of their names, endearing herself to them. A skill that most Wolves needed to practice and hone to perfection, was so deeply ingrained in Dani’s nature that she had no need to fake it. She did genuinely want to know those people’s names, hear about their lives, pet every dog; and goat, in the village, play hide and seek with the children. Her open-hearted nature, although something Lena felt needed to be kept in check, was undeniably a valuable asset.

“You seem to have been mulling over that one for hours now. Having difficulties?”

Lena glanced to her side and found Stanley leaning beside her against the outside wall of his workshop. Her gaze traveled down to the puzzle she was tinkering with, then back to her sister with a soft huff. “Not really. I’m just using it to keep my hands busy.”

Dani’s visit to the general store yielded several different types of puzzles and a couple of animal figurines she thought Sarah might enjoy. When Lena left Sylvie’s cabin earlier, she found her sister struggling to solve one said puzzle. It looked simple: a wooden cube, composed of rows of colored blocks that could be rotated vertically or horizontally. The goal, Dani explained, was to rearrange the blocks so that each face of the cube was a single color. It didn’t look difficult to her so, after watching Dani grow increasingly frustrated, Lena took the cube off her hands to solve. It took a few minutes and repeated attempts, but she eventually returned the cube to her sister with all the pieces back in place. When Stan learned that she’d been able to solve it, he came to ask if she would be willing to try a few different ones he’d made, and for the rest of the afternoon he offered her differently shaped puzzles to sort out; a tetrahedron, different types of pyramid, prisms, so on. The more she solved, the easier it became to solve them, which meant little actual focus was required to solve the dodecahedron she held in her hands now. She already knew the solution, but instead opted to toy with it by rotating one of the horizontal rows back and forth as she watched Dani and the children run around the village square. Assuming Stanley wanted his puzzle back, she quickly set the pieces into their rightful place and held it out for him to take.

Continue reading “The Heart of The Forest 2.07”

The Plotstains Perspective 2.06

Once again, and thanks for coming back for another issue of The Plotstains Perspective. This time, I’d like to talk about the way we perceive our writing compared to how people outside our circles sometimes perceive it. In addition, I will discuss a new way in which you can read Shadows Rise. 

On with my perspective.

In Shadows Rise 2.06 (click the link to avoid spoilers), Dani and Lena step out of camp for the first time to gather some information on a village that might be helping the Wolf Hunters. It didn’t take too long for us to figure out that they are, in fact, the same people who Sebastian and Kyle stayed with during the hourglass ritual. In fact, Lena stands, looking at the same hourglass which has grains of sand inside to commemorate the deaths of the twins’ family. All of this is very interesting and gives me the impression that we may be close to seeing our friends from the first arc again. 

How close is Lena to gathering the information she needs to track down these people who are hunting the assassins? With every chapter, we come closer to finding out, but I’m not sure we’re there quite yet. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

My first readthrough of the chapter went really well this time. Thankfully, I thought, there wasn’t much that needed changing. Some sentences could use some clarity, additional ‘scene dressing’ needed sprinkling in here and there; but other than that, the chapter flowed almost perfectly. Or so I thought. As I’d mentioned in my perspective of 2.05, Blackbird didn’t want me to read any of the chapter until she was entirely finished writing, which broke from the tradition in which I eagerly read the chapter as she writes. Unbeknownst to me, she wanted to know if I gleaned certain details from the chapter which she didn’t make obvious. 

To those of you licking your lips, expecting me to spill the beans, I’m not going to do that. If you didn’t see it for yourself, you’ll have to wait until later to find out any exact details. 

When Blackbird asked me about this detail after reading, I had to do a double take. I couldn’t for the life of me accept that what she’d written showed me what she was attempting to convey. In fact, I saw the opposite all together. Because of this one detail, this chapter changed from nearly perfect to needing a serious reconsideration. A reconsideration which I fought pretty hard to have implemented. 

The problem was that characters weren’t reacting in ways which were conducive to what Blackbird was trying to convey. Now, without knowing what I’m talking about, you might consider this to be purposeful misdirection, but it wasn’t. At least, not in the way Blackbird would intend it to be. 

What I think it came down to was that Blackbird knew how the characters were thinking and figured that the answer would be obvious enough to readers. Of course, I’m not Blackbird, so I can only speak for myself on the matter, but I know there have been times in my writing where I assume the reader knows as much as I do. In doing this, though, the reader becomes lost because they can’t know the character’s thoughts with such intimacy unless they’re written out on the page. In a character-driven story, like Shadows Rise, this is incredibly important. Characters’ thoughts need to be known or else the reasons for their actions will feel arbitrary later on. 

At the end of the day, we came to a compromise. Not exactly as far as I would have liked to take it, but far enough so that when I showed it to another friend, they understood what was happening after I asked them a couple of questions and provided context behind the scene. 

Did you hear that? With enough attention to detail, you, too, might be able to catch what I’m talking about. I’ll be able to explain more later, if I feel it necessary, but rest assured, you’ll know what I’m talking about eventually. 

Now, onto my exciting news. Shadows Rise is now on mobile! That’s right. You can read Shadows Rise even if your computer dies in the middle of a global pandemic! What joy! 

Last month, we were contacted by the friendly creators of Neovel. Neovel is a platform that allows writers like Blackbird and I share our content on a platform designed with readers in mind. Change the font size, the colour of the text and background, leave comments, and enjoy thousands of different stories. From talking to the creators, they’ve got a lot of cool things planned for the future. One such thing includes hiring translators to translate stories. This is something Blackbird and I have dreamt about, but never thought we’d have the time to do ourselves unless we were able to write full time. 

The service is free with ads or you can pay $2.99/m for the premium (beta) option which removes ads, and allows you to read select stories offline (including Shadows Rise). Either way, by reading Shadows Rise on Neovel, money from ad revenue and premium subscriptions goes, in part, to us. So if you like Shadows Rise and indie writing content, this is a great way to help support us and writers like us. 

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Currently it is available in the Play Store for Android. You can click on the link or search, “Neoread” in the store to find it. If you use IOS or want to read on your computer, you can find it through the web by searching, ‘neoread.neovel.io’. 

If you need to catch up on Shadows Rise, this is a great time to do so because we are posting a new chapter every day until we’ve caught up. So far, we’ve got 1.01 all the way to 1.12 posted. If you aren’t sure, here’s a quick look at what the web version of Neoread looks like. 

With all of that out of the way, we’ve reached the end of my perspective this time around. Until next time, see you around. 

Plotstains

The Heart of The Forest 2.06

Shadows Rise

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

[Valcrest Forest | Lunaris 27th | Midday]

In the depths of the forest, the golden rays of sun penetrated the thick canopy, bathing the icy earth in shimmering light. It was a gloriously sunny day. Dani woke Lena before sunrise, a rolled up map under her arm, and several suggestions of routes that would allow her to explore new areas of the forest without compromising their travel time. And despite her sister’s dedication and planning, Lena was forced to remind her that this wasn’t a leisurely trip and traversing uncharted territory while on an assignment would be irresponsible.

Nonetheless, Dani’s excitement at having permission to leave the camp was palpable and, even after two days of travel, it hadn’t waned. Ever since she was little, she was happiest when exploring the forest, and most of Lena’s memories of those early days involved chasing her through the woods and dragging her home to be scolded. Under the constant threat of the Wolf Hunters, even attempting to sneak out became difficult and even when she managed, Lena knew Dani wouldn’t stray as far from camp as she would like. Despite what she wanted people to think, she wasn’t that much of an irresponsible brat.

“We should stop here.” Dani made an absent gesture at their surroundings. “Seems like a good enough place.”

“You want to stop?” Lena arched an eyebrow. “I thought you’d want to keep going for at least another hour.”

Dani shrugged her travel bag off her shoulders and set it down. “It’s midday. I’m hungry. Besides, I noticed you haven’t had your tea this morning. And now you keep rubbing your eyes.”

“I appreciate you looking out for me.”Lena smiled, scanning the area for dry wood. “I’ve decided not to take it today.”

Dani frowned. “What? Why? Doesn’t it help your headaches?”

“It does, but it also hinders my telepathy in some ways, and depending on how this visit goes, I may need to use it.”

Lena could sense Dani’s eyes tracking her every movement as she meandered through the trees, snapping dry branches every few steps. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

Lena answered with a disgruntled hum. “It can be. I won’t try it unless I feel I have to, but it’s vital that I’m at least able to.”

Dani tilted her head to peer over at Lena as she disappeared behind the trunk of a tree. “How can tea hinder your telepathy?”

“I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work exactly, but,” Lena paused as she nearly tripped over a raised root, “my headaches are technically not a physical ailment. They’re a result of mental strain. Because I struggle constantly to keep my enlightenment in check, that mental strain becomes physically painful. The tea eases that pressure by suppressing it to some extent, but it’s not supposed to be something I use indefinitely. The ideal scenario would be to control my ability well enough in the future that it won’t be necessary.”

“I didn’t know you could suppress enlightenment like that.”

“In some ways, for some enlightenments, you can. Some enlightenments work on triggers or have physical factors that make suppressing it a little easier. Some herbs have . . . Mind altering properties—let’s call it that—that can help with some forms of telepathy.” Lena stepped out of the trees with a sly smirk. “Don’t drink my tea. It’ll probably mess you up, normie.”

Dani grinned and said, “I’m curious now.”

Lena’s expression immediately turned to a warning glare. “I’m serious, don’t play with that kind of stuff.”

“I’m just joking! Twins.” Dani laughed, reaching for the dry wood in her Lena’s hands. “Give me those, I’ll start the fire. It always takes you ages.”

Lena rolled her eyes. “Once, not always. I remembered to pack matches this time.”

Dani shook her head, setting a bundle of sticks into a small campfire. “You rely on those too much, that’s your problem. Half the time the stupid things don’t even work anyway. You need to learn to make a proper fire with just sticks. Hone those survival skills.”

Lena groaned, rummaging through her bag for their travel rations. “Maybe you need to learn to use matches properly. Unless they’re wet there’s no reason half of them wouldn’t work.”

“You really can’t stand being inept at something, huh? You just gotta argue about it.” Dani chuckled, fishing out a flint and steel from her own bag. “If I had a magnifying glass on me, I’d show off. It is pretty sunny today.”

“Now you’re just being a smug little shit,” Lena half-heartedly scolded.

Dani was quick to fire back with a smirk. “Learned from the best.”

Once they’d set their temporary camp, the sisters sat by the warmth of their fire, snacking on dry rabbit jerky and roasting chestnuts in a small iron pan. Although Dani had been in high spirits and quite talkative during their journey so far, the topic of why she’d been allowed on this assignment in the first place hadn’t been approached. It was a simple task in theory; stop by the village, browse their wares, and try to stir up conversation with some of the locals and try to pick up on anything out of the ordinary. Not something Lena would need assistance with or that would even pose much of a teaching opportunity for Dani. The real reason she was asked to bring her sister along was to take her away from the clan long enough for the whispers surrounding that spar with Franklin to subside. Rumors spread in the Wolfpack like wildfire, but they were also quick to burn out in most cases.

“Are you going to get those?”

“Hm?” Lena forced her mind back to reality. Dani was pointing at the last portion of roasted nuts. “No, you can have them. I’m full.”

“Great.” Dani helped herself to the nuts, glancing at her sister. “So, what’s eating away at you?”

“Nothing in particular. Just thinking about the assignment,” Lena said.

“Mhm.” Dani chewed on one of the chestnuts, frowning in thought. “Are you worried about maybe using your telepathy on those people?”

“A little, yes.” Lena found her waterskin and took a short swig. “I’m also considering what else I can do about your training when we get back. That spar was far from what it could have been, on both parts. I’m sure it gave Wayne something to ponder as well.”

Dani flinched. “What do you mean? I thought I did well.”

“You did well, but you did well within the limitations of your training. So did Franklin. Therein lies the issue.”

“So I did well, it just wasn’t good enough.”

Lena picked up the self-doubt in her sister’s tone immediately and shook her head. “Let me be clear on what I mean. The way you prevented Franklin from reading your mind worked. And considering you had no practical experience on how to fend off a telepathic assault whatsoever, you did exceptionally well applying what little you knew and using it to your advantage . . . .”

Dani rolled her eyes and mouthed, “However . . .” at the same time as Lena said it. Lena paused to shoot her sister a glare. “However, the only reason it worked is that Franklin didn’t know what he was doing either.” Lena took another swig of water. It became clear that abstaining from her tea was beginning to take a toll. “What you did is a tactic commonly known amongst telepaths as ‘mental cluttering’. In simple terms, it’s the mental equivalent of shouting in someone’s ears to disrupt their concentration. It can work; as you’ve seen, but unless you’re dealing with an inexperienced telepath, it almost certainly won’t.”

Dani’s expression smoother over as curiosity seemed to win out over self-deprecation. “So, I won because Franklin isn’t as capable using his enlightenment as he should?”

“Mhm,” Lena agreed. “That’s why I said you must have given Wayne something to think about. And the outcome of this spar might hinder Franklin’s graduation. Not only is he inept as a telepath, he was also leaning on his enlightenment to the point that you managed to overpower him almost immediately by what basically amounts to shouting in his ears.”

Dani leaned back, hands resting against the cold soil behind her back. “That sounds less than ideal.”

“It is. For both of you. ‘Telepath’ is an extremely broad term. That being the case, they make up the vast majority of the enlightened population. Franklin’s ineptitude in using his enlightenment, and yours in fending it off effectively, are both fatal flaws that need to be corrected as soon as possible.”

“You make that sound as unpleasant as I’m sure it’s gonna be,” Dani muttered, tilting her back to stare at the fallow branches above their heads, beams of sunlight flickering as they waved, shading and highlighting her cold-blushed face. “So what are other ways to handle it, if not with . . . What did you call the thing I did?”

“Mental cluttering,” Lena told her. “There is mental blocking which is the most commonly used method; very effective against mind readers and some forms of mental manipulation, but it wouldn’t work against someone with my branch of telepathy. Blocking only affects the conscious part of the mind. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to raise mental barriers in your own subconscious.”

“So what would work against someone like you?” Dani asked, briefly glancing at her sister before averting her gaze to the tree branches once more.

“Unknown.”

“What do you mean?”

“If there is a way to defend against someone with my type of telepathy, it is currently unknown. There are theories, but they have never been attempted.”

Dani straightened up to look Lena in the eyes. “Why not?”

“First of all, these types of telepathic abilities are rare. Second, it would be too dangerous for the reasons we already discussed.” It was Lena’s turn to focus on the barren trees above their heads. “Witters wants to conduct these tests. He thinks that these sorts of rare enlightenments, while dangerous, if controlled could actually be channeled to help people, but so far there’s nothing to indicate it would even be possible.”

“If you leave and go with them . . . Is he going to test that theory with you?”

Lena shrugged. “Maybe. I know the leader of the White Shadows isn’t interested in me entirely for my benefit. Jon Witters is the kind of person who isn’t satisfied with telling himself he’s done enough when a problem isn’t fixed. He thinks that every enlightened person has the ability to control their magic; however powerful, it just takes finding the right way to do it.”

“Do you think he’s right?”

“I hope he is, but I don’t know.” Lena’s eyes lingered on the swaying branches above. The light seeping through had shifted with the passing of time. They’d made good time, but delaying further wouldn’t serve a purpose. “Are you done eating?”

“Pretty much. You want to get going?”

“Mhm. If we keep this pace we might be able to get there by nightfall. Don’t know if there’ll be any vacant beds in that village, but we might be able to at least score a decent hot meal then.”

Dani nodded, getting on her feet and putting out the fire. “What kind of stuff do they sell there, did mom say?”

“Tools, woodwork, that kind of thing,” Lena answered, rinsing off the pan and storing it away in her bag. “If you want to buy stuff for yourself, I hope you brought your own gold.”

“Of course I did.” Dani patted her hip where her coin purse was hanging. “I want to maybe get something for Sarah. If they have animal carvings or something else like that. I think she’d like those.”

“They might. Won’t know unless we get there, so get a move on clearing that up. Let’s go.”

[Unnamed Village | Lunaris 28th | Early morning]

They arrived at the village late the previous night. Lena set up their tents just outside their borders, not wanting to hassle any of the villagers for room and board at such a late hour. They did take the time to introduce themselves to the village elder; a woman named Sylvie, and accepted her kind offer of rabbit stew. Their conversation was brief, Lena assured her they were simply passing through and likely wouldn’t stay another night; there was no need to make arrangements. Dani was the first to wake in the morning and exit her tent. Almost immediately, she was greeted by a smiling young woman and her toddler—the boy peering at her from behind his mother’s skirt. Dani blinked slowly at the smiling figure, still disoriented from sleep. “Uhm. Hello?”

“Hi. I’m Emmeline, Sylvie’s grandniece. And this is Leopold, my son.” She tried to coax the boy from hiding. “Say hi, Leo.” Leo shook his head, clutching the fabric of Emmeline’s dress closer to himself. “Sorry, I don’t know why he’s acting shy. My aunt wanted me to come ask if you wouldn’t like to join us for breakfast.”

“Oh,” Dani mumbled, glancing towards Lena’s tent. “I’ll have to wake my sister. Besides, we wouldn’t want to inconvenience your aunt. We can just fix ourselves some porridge.”

“You should save your rations if you’re traveling.” Emmeline insisted. “Besides, it’s no inconvenience at all. Aunt Sylvie loves speaking with visitors. You can come whenever you’re ready.”

Dani hummed shooting another, more doubtful, glance towards Lena’s tent. “Sure . . . I’ll talk to my sister.”

Emmeline nodded, her friendly smile, unwavering. “Good. I’ll let Auntie know to expect you.”

“Sure,” Dani repeated, watching as the woman turned on her heels and—shy little boy in tow—made her way back to the village. Their camp wasn’t far, it was possible to see the small well in the center of the small settlement. The houses were humble, constructed out of wood, stone, and straw. Stables and animal paddocks were stationed along the edges of the village, and Dani could see a few stray chickens and a goat roaming free amongst the town mutts. She once again glanced towards Lena’s tent, hearing movement. “Did you hear all that?”

“Yes.” Lena’s voice was contained within the greenish-brown canvas. “Very persistently nice of them.”

“Do you think there’s something more to it?”

“There definitely is, but . . .” Lena emerged from her tent, working to untangle a few strands of hair. “There could be a multitude of reasons for that. Maybe they just want to keep us happy so we’ll spend more coin. Or they want to make us more trusting so they can get us talking about ourselves more, which can also be for a multitude of reasons; some innocent, others not so much.”

Dani snorted softly. “So you don’t know.”

“If we had these answers we wouldn’t need to be here.” Lena smiled. “We’re going to breakfast, then you’re going out to browse the wares at the trading post and be your lovely social self with these people.”

Dani nodded. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to stay behind and talk to Aunt Sylvie since she likes visitors so much.” She nodded Dani in the direction of the village and started walking herself. “I’m sure she has some stories to tell.”

The short walk to Sylvie’s cabin was punctuated by curious glances and stray whispers, especially from the village children; some of which needed to be scolded by their parents not to stop and stare. At first, Dani assumed it was just the novelty of strangers, but as Lena knocked on the elder’s door she came to the realization it was almost entirely directed at her. She frowned, but before she had the chance to whisper something to Lena, the door opened.

Sylvie was the embodiment of a grandmother—or at least what Dani imagined grandmothers to be; soft spoken, accommodating, and kind. She quickly welcomed them into her home and led them to her kitchen table before excusing herself to tend to something outside; promising to join them soon. Emmeline set a plate of sweet rolls on the table, her son once again rushed to cling to her the moment they walked in, but was scooped up by a tall, dark-haired, young man; presumably his father, and clung to his neck instead. A blond boy about the same age as Dani occupied the chair beside the man. He nodded at them in greeting. As Emmeline continued to set the table with hotcakes, jars of jam and honey, and pitchers of milk and water, she smiled at the both of them. “Please, sit; help yourselves. This is my husband, Stanley and his apprentice, Robert.” She sat down herself, plating one of the hotcakes and beginning to cut it into small pieces for Leo. “My apologies, I didn’t catch your names when I stopped by earlier.”

Lena shook her head with a polite smile, taking a seat and motioning for Dani to do so as well. “That’s alright. I’m sure my sister would have remembered her manners, had she been more awake.”

Dani flashed her a momentary glare, but nodded. “Apologies. I’m Dani. And this is my sister, Lena. It’s nice meeting you.”

“It’s nice meeting you, as well,” Emmeline replied, taking the initiative to plate a small stack of hotcakes for each of them. “We don’t usually see many visitors in the winter time. Are you heading for Newhaven?”

Lena accepted her plate with a polite thank you and proceeded to cut into the small stack of flat cakes. “No, we actually have to deliver some fabrics to another village a couple of days away from here. Dani likes exploring whenever we travel; take different routes, discover new places, and such. We heard there were some villages in this area that sell nice tools, woodwork, things like that and decided to investigate.”

“Oh? What kind of tools would you be interested in? Stanley here is the village ironsmith.” Emmeline smiled proudly at her husband, who was trying to pry a fussy boy from his neck and into a high chair.

“I was thinking about wood carving tools. We have a friend who has an interest in woodwork. I thought that a tool kit would make a good birthday gift in a couple of months,” Lena answered, taking a bite off her breakfast.

Stan managed to wrestle Leo into his chair and give Lena his full attention. “I could definitely prepare a tool kit like that for you, but it might not be ready before nightfall.”

Dani could see the wheels turning in Lena’s mind at this point. Eldric’s birthday was still a few months away, but it was unlikely they’d come back after this. “We could just stay another night,” she suggested. “We won’t be late with the delivery.”

Lena hesitated, but agreed. “I guess it will be worth the wait.”

“Mhm.” Dani grinned through a bite of her breakfast and informed, “It’s for her boyfriend, so do your best wo—” Her sentence was interrupted by a pained groan as she was promptly kicked under the table. “Ow! Uncalled for.”

“It’s not their business who it’s for,” Lena scolded.

“Ah, young love!” Sylvie exclaimed, entering the kitchen behind them. “There’s nothing quite like it.”

The statement actually managed to make Lena recoil in slight embarrassment and cause Dani to choke out a laugh, poorly disguised as a cough.

“Don’t worry, all my tools are the highest quality and if you’d like we can discuss having something engraved on the box as well.”

Stanley’s offer was a more-than-welcome change of subject and Lena was quick to nod along. “I would appreciate that, sure.”

“Great. You should pass by my workshop later in the afternoon. It’s the building right beside the general store.”

Not long after, Stan finished his breakfast and bid his wife and son goodbye, leaving to tend to his work. Robert lingered, informing that it was his weekly day off so, if they wanted, he would be happy to show them around the village, joking that it would take five whole minutes to see everything. Dani was the first to finish her breakfast and, remembering what she and Lena agreed on, took up his offer. Lena, on the other hand, stalled on finishing hers and offered to stay behind and help clean up the kitchen, since Sylvie had been so kind in opening her home to them. Emmeline was quick to accept the offer on her grand-aunt’s behalf, her tone apologetic as she mentioned needing to watch Leo and that he was getting to be a handful. Dani would normally offer to help as well in light of this, but since Lena wanted her to go out in the village, she quickly excused herself before she could be roped in. As she exited the kitchen, she heard Lena make some offhand disapproving remark about her aversion to housework. She had to hold back a snort; out of the two, Lena was the one who would rather not step foot in the kitchen if she could avoid it.

The winter chill was a stark contrast to the stifling hot ambiance of Sylvie’s kitchen. Dani huddled into her travel cloak, fighting back her initial shock.

“Are you cold? I can lend you a thicker coat, if you’d like,” Robert offered.

It was the first time she heard the boy speak since they arrived at Sylvie’s house. Even Leo had uttered a few words during breakfast while fussing at his mother for more hotcakes. Dani glanced at him with slight curiosity. “No, thank you. I like the cold, it was just really warm in there. Robert, is it?”

Robert nodded. “You can just call me Bobby.” His dismissive shrug was an attempt to come off more at ease than he actually was; his shoulders were tense and he was quick to hide his hands in his pockets as he led her to the center of the village. There were children at play and, once again, a few stopped to stare at her before being scolded by a passing adult. “What’s up that?” Dani mumbled. It was more to herself, than an actual question, but she got an answer nonetheless.

“Your hair.”

She turned her head to fix Robert with a small glare. “What?”

The boy almost physically recoiled under the scrutiny. “Most of the kids here never left the village. They’ve never seen anyone with red hair before. The only person they even heard of having red hair is the Queen.”

Dani’s expression shifted from slighted to amused with his explanation. “Is that all? Twins, it’s just hair. I don’t know what’s so special about it.”

Robert shook his head, laughing softly. “It’s a novelty to them. Besides, it’s very pretty.”

“I understand. I just find amusing what people think is unusual in Valcrest of all places.” Dani stopped walking as they reached the well and offered her hand for one of the stray mutts to sniff. “I mean, I’m definitely nothing special compared to what some people out there can do.”

Robert shrugged. “I don’t think you need to be enlightened to be special. I think that depends more on the person you are.”

Dani smiled as the mutt wagged its tail and licked her hand. “In a way, yeah. Being magical doesn’t mean you have to perform extraordinary feats and just because you aren’t doesn’t mean you won’t leave a mark in the world somehow, but as far as unusual goes, someone who can change their eyes color and levitate objects around them should draw more attention than my hair color. Yet, here I am; the village spectacle.”

“I’m sure if there was an eye-color-shifting-object-levitating act in the village right now, no one would be paying attention to you.” Robert half smiled and added: “Well, almost no one.”

Dani glanced at the boy momentarily. Robert was leaning against the side of the well, hands still in his pockets, watching with interest as she gave the willing mutt some well-deserved ear-scratches. “These guys belong to somebody?”She asked, noticing another, larger dog coming over to sniff around her.

“No. We all take turns feeding them. Same with most of the animals here. Cows and goats give milk, chickens give eggs. The dogs fend off the wildlife. The horses are used for travel. Or we lend them to visitors sometime, if they’re going to the City and back,” Robert explained. “But not to just anyone. Clint runs the stables and he’s really paranoid that people might not bring them back. He only lends them to regular visitors, if Sylvie vouches for them.”

Dani hummed. “Do you get a lot of regular visitors?”

“Not this time of year, but in the Springtime; yeah, a few.” Robert thought for a moment, then added. “We haven’t lent the horses to anyone since last spring, in fact.”

Dani nodded as she divided her attention between the two dogs. “My sister wants a puppy for her birthday, but I’ll be surprised if she gets one.”

Robert arched an eyebrow, glancing in the direction of Sylvie’s house. “Your sister seems old enough to get a dog for herself, no?”

Dani followed his gaze as she straightened up and laughed. “I meant my younger sister. She’s nine.”

“Oh. That makes a lot more sense.”

“Actually, I was looking to get something for her. She likes wood carvings, puzzle boxes, things like that.”

“Oh, we do have some nice stuff like that in the general store. Stan makes these little puzzles out of iron nails too. They’re not for small kids, but a nine-year-old could definitely play with them.”

“How are nails a puzzle?”

“He bends them so they’re hooked onto one another and the puzzle is that you have to find the right way to pull them apart.” Robert explained. “I have one at home, I’ll go get it and you’ll see.”

[Unnamed Village | Lunaris 28th | Midday]

Housework was one of Lena’s least favorite activities, but she made sure to do more than her share so that Emmeline could give Leo her full attention. Once the boy finally got over his shyness, it became immediately clear why his mother seemed to desperately cling to her offer. Leo was overflowing with energy and constantly demanding; so much that Emmeline felt obligated to take him out to play, leaving Lena to assist Sylvie by herself.

Lena didn’t find housework difficult, just tedious; something that Sylvie’s company more than made up for. The old woman had a tome’s worth of stories to tell. She’d lived in the village her whole life, her parents and grandparents as well. Her family had been there since the early days of the settlement, when the community formed from deserters on both sides of the war, trying to keep their families safe. War times were distant in most people’s minds nowadays, according to Sylvie. The hostilities between Blackpond and Newhaven were petty and almost childish in nature compared to what they once had been. It was safer to welcome visitors now than it had been when she was young. Yet, they could never be too careful. Despite the woman’s grandmotherly nature, the subtle warning contained in that statement wasn’t lost on Lena. She didn’t address it directly, neither did Sylvie.

Once the kitchen was clean and most of the preparation for lunch concluded, Sylvie put on a kettle of water for tea and shooed Lena out to the living room, saying she’d done enough.

Although Sylvie had instructed her to sit, Lena paced the small living room as she waited; wooden figurines decorated the living room table, the cushioned chairs by the fireplace and the sofa looked comfortable, but worn. Childish drawings adorned some of the walls; not unlike the ones Sarah proudly displayed in her room. Some were signed; Spencer, Micah, Eleanor . . . . Lena questioned if the elderly woman had any children. Emmeline was a grandniece; the grandchild of a sibling, so maybe not. Or maybe, not anymore. Her eyes landed on the large adorned hourglass sitting proudly on the mantelpiece; specks of red sand standing out amongst the golden grains.

“Do you partake in the ritual?” Sylvie questioned, coming out of the kitchen with two warm cups of tea in a small tray.

“Not every year. Depends on my state of mind when the day comes. I’m not sure if I truly need a day of remembrance. It’s not as if I’ve forgotten them.”

“You will once you’ve lived to be my age.” Sylvie quipped. “Life is harsh, unforgiving, and loss is unfortunately a great part of it. Time has its way with memories; its ways of twisting, bending, and blurring them together.”

Lena hummed, her eyes focused on the hourglass, as though attempting to imagine a name and a face on every grain of red sand contained within. The only face that came to mind was accompanied by the sensation of burning needles stabbing into her temples. She squeezed her eyes shut with a sharp inhale, breathing out slowly as the pain faded. Whatever memory she was about to retrieve faded before it even had the chance to form. She opened her eyes, forcing a deep breath. In the body of the hourglass, she glimpsed a ghost of her reflection; blue light draining from its irises against her will. With another deep breath, Lena forced her hands to release the edge of the mantlepiece, forced herself to regain her composure, to reclaim full control over her senses.

“Are you alright, sweetie?” Sylvie walked to Lena’s side and pushed the warm cup of tea onto her hands. “Here, drink some tea.”

Lena turned away from the hourglass with a small shake of her head. “It was just the start of a headache, nothing more.” She accepted the cup and raised it to her lips, inhaling the scent of peppermint before taking a small sip. “I feel better now, thank you,” she mumbled, finally accepting Sylvie’s invitation to take a seat; more out of necessity than any other reason.

“Are you sure? I’ll be honest with you, child, you look more exhausted than me. At your age, that’s not a good sign.”

Lena took another sip of tea, forcing a calm smile despite the rush of blood still ringing in her ears. “I’ve always had a lot on my shoulders, but I’m sure that’s true for most people nowadays. Life is harsh; harsher the longer we live, just as you said.”

Sylvie’s smile was sympathetic. “Are you fully responsible for your sister now? You don’t seem that much older than her.”

Lena shook her head. “Not exactly, but I am currently responsible for her education.”

“I see. Pardon my curiosity, but . . . You don’t look very much alike.”

Lena snorted softly. Sylvie was, of course, correct in her observation. Dani had taken after her father, while Sarah was almost a perfect copy of their mother as a child, but even then, they had several characteristics in common. Lena, on the other hand, stood apart from them: darker skin tone; or at least not as light, black hair, and even though both her and Dani had blue eyes, hers were a deep dark blue, while Dani’s were much lighter; almost in-between blue and green. “No, we wouldn’t. I was adopted before Dani was born. I was just a few months old when my birth mother died. I don’t have any real memory of her. The man she conceived me with was never interested to begin with and died before I was old enough to seek him out.”

Sylvie hummed through a small sip of tea. “It sounds like a rough start to life, but I assume the family you have now has treated you well. You’re certainly protective of your sister.” The elderly woman smiled coyly. “With the way you glared at Robert when he walked out with her, I’m sure he’s fully convinced you would chop off his hands and feed them to the dogs if he doesn’t keep them to himself.”

“I have to be. That kid knows how to get herself into trouble when she wants to.” Lena took another sip of tea, holding back a grin. “And I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

“It wouldn’t, but I understand that you would prefer to be safe than sorry in regards to your family’s well-being.” Sylvie’s eyes held Lena’s and an unmistakable spark of light flashed within them. “After all, we all want the best for those we love, don’t we?”

Lena nodded cooly. “Of course.”

Sylvie drained her tea cup and stood. “Well, unfortunately lunch won’t prepare itself. You may join your sister once you’ve finished your tea. Emmeline will come find you when it’s ready.”

Lena’s eyes tracked the elder’s movement as she once again retreated into the kitchen. Only after the woman had been out of sight for a solid minute did she allow a shiver to run its course along her spine. She stalled in finishing her tea, listening to the innocent sounds of pots and pans resonating from the other room. Nothing in the whole exchange had been harmful—not even the parts of it Lena was unable to fully wrap her head around—yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that the ground had suddenly vanished right beneath her feet.

<< Previous |First| Next  >>

2.06 Coming Tomorrow

Apologies. We unfortunately won’t be able to post chapter 2.06 tonight due to multiple aggravating circumstances. The chapter is finished, however still unedited, and we would rather deliver our best one day late than meet a deadline at the expense of quality.

We hope you are all well.

Stay safe.

– The Crew

The Plotstains Perspective 2.05

Hello, and welcome, again to another great (and late) issue of the Plotstains Perspective. Now, as always, if you haven’t read the latest chapter of Shadows Rise, go there now to avoid any spoilers. Today’s issue should be light on the spoilers. In fact, just allow me to whinge a for a couple hundred words about my laptop issues.

That’s right! In the middle of a pandemic, not long before my editing deadline, my laptop decided it was through with 2020 and died. Serendipity, however, granted me salvation. The day before, I was cleaning my room and found my old laptop. Out of boredom, I decided that I would open it up and see if I could find the reason it wouldn’t charge anymore (which was why I’d bought my newer laptop). With no laptop repair experience, I had my doubts that I’d figure the problem out. To my surprise, after an hour of tearing things apart, I discovered the problem. All I needed was a replacement part. 

I ordered this part on Amazon and when I woke up the next day, my current laptop was dead. 

This was disastrous. Living through a pandemic without a laptop to connect to the outside world presented for me some difficulties. I still had my phone, but living on the internet exclusively off my phone wasn’t fun. Not only did I just launch my new website, but I was also trying to discover ways to create a profit online while unemployed. But the worst thing of all, and the most relevant to this issue, was my inability to use a laptop to edit Shadows Rise. 

Let me tell you, if you ever need to edit a word document on Google Docs, the mobile app isn’t what you want to use. It could be worse, but it certainly isn’t good. Making suggestions on documents on the mobile app comes with problems. Half the time, glitches and other issues meant a one step process turned into three step processes. I had to keep a close eye on what I wrote because sometimes what I wrote would automatically change to something I hadn’t written. In some ways, it kept me on my toes, but if I ever have a choice, I will always go with editing from my laptop.

Finally, let’s just quickly talk about the chapter itself. Before Blackbird started writing, I told her that we needed something about the Wolf Hunters in this chapter. Since we don’t see what’s going on with the Hunters directly so far in this arc, as the reader’s advocate, I knew that we needed some incentive to keep reading about these Wolves. How about a trip to a town where they’re believed to be active? Blackbird already had this planned and I’ve got to say, I’m really happy about this.

Will we see some of the Wolf Hunters in this coming chapter? I’m not sure, but I’ll be excited to find out.

This was a short issue of The Plotstains Perspective. Most of it is because I’ve been waiting for my laptop repairs and I’ve forgotten a lot of the things I originally wanted to talk about while I waited. Another part is because I’m feeling a little lazy today. However, I think the next chapter of Shadows Rise will give us a lot to talk about. Blackbird isn’t allowing me to even read it until she’s finished writing (which is something she’s never done). I think there might be a surprise in store for me this coming chapter. If that’s true, I’ll definitely have something to make up for my lacking perspective this time around.

Until then,

-Plotstains

 

The Heart of The Forest 2.05

Shadows Rise

<< Previous |FirstNext  >>

[Wolves Camp | Lunaris 24th, 2525 | Afternoon]

Dani’s footsteps fell heavy on the path to the armory. On some distant, level-headed part of her mind, she understood that Lena was probably right. Whatever Wayne had said, buying into provocation was never a smart move. If she were the Alpha, accepting that spar would have been a sign of weakness. However, she wasn’t; not yet. She hadn’t earned the right to call herself a Wolf. Whether or not she wanted to admit it, Dani did have something to prove.

The armory rested on the northeast side of camp, a short walk from the fire pit. It was a large shed, without windows and one thick wooden door protected by a sturdy lock. Camp laws prohibited access to the armory by Recruits and Wolves who underwent disciplinary measures. Three guards were posted there at all times and one individual was in charge of monitoring the entrance and inventory; nothing should come in or out of that cabin without his knowledge.

Dani smiled as she reached the end of the path only to be met with a stern glare. “Hey, Mat-,” She flinched, quickly correcting herself on how the man prefered to be addressed. “Bana.”

“Dani,” the man greeted, graciously ignoring her misstep. “Whatever you’re up to, the answer is no.”

“Give me a little credit. If I was up to something, it wouldn’t be this straightforward. Lena sent me to pick out a weapon. You can write it down on the ledger and everything.”

The man’s dark gaze lingered on her for a prolonged moment, scrutinizing, but he eventually relented and opened the door. “Are you having a spar?”

Dani nodded as she stepped into the armory, eyes scanning the weapon stands row by row. “Mhm. I’d ask you to come watch, but I know you can’t leave your post.”

“Pity.” Bana’s smile was implied in his voice as he entered the shed behind her. “I’m sure it will be a spectacle the likes of which the Wolfpack has never seen.”

“One way or another,” Dani mumbled, self-doubt beginning to break through her earlier resolve as she stared at one particular weapon stand, examining its contents.

Bana responded with an interested hum, coming to stand beside her. “Who are you sparring?”

“Franklin.”

“Smithy’s boy? Hm. Have you seen him fight? Know anything about his strengths?”

“No.”

“Alright. I see.” Bana glanced at her then back to the weapon rack. “Do you know anything about your strengths, then?”

Dani’s answer was an apathetic shrug followed but a disgruntled mumble.

“Alright, an easier question then; what have you been training with?”

“Short blades mostly. Some archery on the side.”

“Well, you can’t use a bow. So short blades it is.”

Dani hummed, examining her choices. A vast array of short swords and daggers sat along shelves, each with its own shape, weight, hilt—all of which had a purpose of its own in a fight. “You wanna recommend me something? I’m already taking too long.”

“I would recommend you think about what you know of your opponent, what his build is, what advantages you might have over him.”

Dani hummed. She didn’t know much about Franklin. They never trained together and didn’t interact much socially, either. He was physically imposing. A mind reader, according to Lena. Matthison was fond of strategic approaches and he sang Franklin’s praises to the winds, so she assumed he knew how to explore an opponent’s weaknesses well. If all of those assumptions were correct she was in a disadvantage and would need to take control of the fight as quickly as possible. Assessing the vast selection of blades in the racks, her attention focused on one particular pair. “These.”

Continue reading “The Heart of The Forest 2.05”

The Plotstains Perspective 2.04

Hello again, and welcome to The Plotstains Perspective. There’s a great deal of interesting things I’d like to say, so I’ll cut the introduction short. If you haven’t read the latest chapter of Shadows Rise, please take the time to follow the link before you read any further.

What an interesting chapter we had this time. We got to look at Lena a little closer, and learned a few new things from her. Most notably, Blackbird explains her magical abilities.

First, I want to extend a warm thanks to all the people who have been reading Shadows Rise this month! We all have a little more time on our hands, for better or worse; I know I do. As a result we’ve seen a growing readership, most notably on Royal Road, where April has (as of April 17th) already eclipsed all other months this year. It makes me happy to know that people are taking comfort reading our story and we hope that we can continue to entertain during these tough times and through the bright future ahead of us. 

As you may have noticed, magic does exist in Valcrest, although, it doesn’t seem the focus like many fantasy stories, and as a result, we leave it mostly unexplained in Shadows Rise. As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t much of an issue as the story isn’t about the magic. The magic is merely supplemental to the story; some characters have it and some don’t, but for those interested, here’s the quick and dirty crash course on magic in Valcrest. 

Enlightenment is a magical property bestowed upon certain people in Valcrest. As any good metaphor for coming of age, it develops at 12-years-old (earlier for some and others, later) and is called, “awakening”. No known person has more than one enlightened ability. In Kyle, for example, we see that he only has an affinity for pyromancy. We won’t ever see him bending water. This is impossible. 

The reason that people don’t talk so much about enlightenment is because of how normal it is. Kids one day have special abilities that they didn’t before and maybe they’ll discover a use for them. Maybe they’ll be destructive. Either way, they learn how to live with it. It’s a regular facet of life. Like driving to the store. We don’t think about driving to the store and the same goes for enlightened folk in Valcrest. With that said, religious elements exist in enlightenment, also. Essentially, people believe that the gods slept with some humans and endowed them with magical abilities. There’s more to the story, but for the time being, you’ll either have to wait or go support us on Patreon where I’ve written the Valcrest myth of creation. 

Is this a shameless plug? Sort of. Rest assured, however, that if patience is your strongest virtue, you will eventually be able to read this myth for free. Not for a long time, still, but good things do come to those who wait. Supporting us is a great way to help us dedicate extra time to producing stuff like Shadows Rise, and even this issue of The Plotstains Perspective. All it takes is one dollar and you gain access to all our early content. 

“Enough shilling!” He said aloud, “Onto the rest of my perspective.” 

This whole rambling of Enlightenment is a means for me to contextualize what we’ve learned in this chapter. Lena’s enlightenment is dangerous, it seems, to herself and to others in the Wolf Camp. This is so much an issue that everyone in her immediate family and outside from the White Shadows express concern for her. Will this come into play later? What danger can she pose to people in the camp and can she gain control of it? I hope she can, because, like I’ve said before, the Wolves hold a special place in my heart and I’d hate to see them suffer from within their own camp. Gabrielle and her Hunters are coming for them, we know that, but could Lena’s enlightenment make things worse? 

Speaking of other people in the camp, let’s take a moment to talk about my new favourite character: Wayne Matthison. What a character! 

I don’t fully think you can appreciate this guy as much as I can, but I have some personal connections with this character which makes him an entertaining read. I can’t say much more, as I’d love to avoid spoiling even the smallest details for you, but please be sure that eventually, if you pay close attention, you’ll see what I’m saying. However, there’s still lots to love about this character. 

I love reading crotchety old men in books. In spite of their brazen approach to life, they tend to bring some needed drama and wit to a scene. Not only are they great for drama, but they tend to bring the best (or worst) out in any character. Wayne proves this point marvelously as he deconstructs Lena in front of a crowd while urging Dani to fight his student. As much a matter of pride for him as an opportunity to drive a wedge between Lena and the rest of the camp. I must say, I excitedly added dialogue to this character much to the dismay of Blackbird. She kept me from the brink, containing my impulses and prevented you all from my unwanted additions. 

His part was my favourite in this chapter and I can’t wait to see the result of the fight. Win or lose, I think Wayne’s reaction will satisfy.

And onto some of the technical details, let’s talk editing. What a wild ride that was for this chapter. 

Blackbird, at times, loves to keep me on edge. We share a folder in Google Docs, and I can watch the progress of each chapter live. This time around, due in part to real world stresses, the beginning stages of writing this chapter saw delays. Nearly a week I counted, looking at a blank document sitting in our folder, patiently waiting to be written, a chapter. As the document waited, so did I, and with each passing day, my anxiety grew deeper. I wouldn’t tell Blackbird (although she knows now) how stressed I was knowing that our deadline was creeping ever closer. Sometimes you can’t write, and I understand that, but being the responsible editor, keeping to our deadlines is my prerogative; I couldn’t help the nagging in the back of my head telling me that this chapter wouldn’t publish on time. 

In the end, it did publish on time, but boy was it a struggle. Blackbird pulled two all-nighters and drank artery-clogging volumes of Coca Cola. All the while, I was editing the things previously typed, making my suggestions and hoping she’d have enough time to get through them. The final hours of our deadline date drew near, but we managed to publish on time. The stress was something that I haven’t quite felt while editing any previous chapter. In a sense, it was exhilarating. If you’ve ever been in a school play, you might understand. That moment right before you enter where you can feel the residual heat from the lights illuminating the stage mere feet from where you stand. Editing under pressure feels something like that: Not a sensation I want in my life all the time, but not entirely unwelcome, either. 

Currently, the same thing is happening for our latest chapter. As I type this out on April 20th, a blank document lies waiting to have the chapter written. This is concerning because I know that Blackbird struggles at writing fight scenes and therefore, I’ll have more work to do, as well. If we don’t get started soon, we’ll have the same problem as last time. Let’s hope we don’t, but if we do, you’ll be sure to hear about it in my next issue.

Until then,

–Plotstains