Friday, May 21, 2010

Creative work

Hello there,

Today's not really a real post. I've just been working on some little projects and wanted to show you the stuff I've made.
First of all, this is a little doll I made with a lot of difficulty. I've never sewn before so I needed a lot of help from my
dear mother, but I finished it eventually!
I'm quite proud of her!
I've also been making a big sketc
hbook filled with a lot of the stuff I created for my novel to help me write it. I don't want to just throw it all out so I've been putting all my drawings, maps, character profiles and notes into a big scrapbook. I still have quite a bit to do but I'm getting close to finishing it! Here are a couple of pages: Enjoy!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Okay here goes:

I just got home from YABC, and, feeling a little bit crappy and down on myself, I had a good chat with Dad in the car. Now there are a few things I want to say to explain to you the mimi revelation I had so please be patient.

1. My Dad once told me this story, and it went like this. Everyone knows we have souls, as intangible and invisible as they are. Our souls are what we stem from. Think about an egg, white and clean. Inside the egg, a bright light is glowing, but you can't see it fully because it is blocked by the shell. That egg is your soul. Now, take a pin, a prick a hole in the egg shell. The light shines through in one straight line. That's a potential you. Maybe that is the you that you are. Take the pin again and prick more holes. Each of these is a different version of you. They can seem totally different, be men or women, different races, ages, all sorts of things. But basically they stem from that one egg, from your soul, and though the light shines in different directions, it is the same light.
Sound a bit wacky? Bear with me.

2. When I was in year ten drama, we had a man come to speak to us about method acting. He told me that the majority of actors don't act, they pretend. They can only act something that they have experienced, hence the method acting. You cannot act a pregnant teenage girl unless you have been a pregnant teenage girl. That would be 'pretending'.
I found this an absolute load of crap. I really truly disagreed. It annoyed the hell out of me. I thought, what that theory is doing is demeaning every piece of work non-method actors have done, and saying that they can't feel the emotion. He was telling me that anything I feel when acting is false.

3. I'm sure we all feel it sometimes; that we just can't play a character, or do a certain style. We say 'I'm not this enough or that enough' and that's what I said to myself at YABC today. Talking with Dad on the way home, he told me something interesting. He said: we each have every single character inside us. We may not be homeless, but it can happen to us, we may not be a murderer, but we can murder. As dark as that sounds, it rang true. And he said the best actors are once that recognise that every single character we can dream up is inside us, some portion of it is real for us.
This got me thinking about the egg, and about method acting. Here's my new acting philospohy: We may feel like we can't play a certain character because that is not who we are at this moment, but we have to think about the egg and the other pricks of light. Those are all potential me's out there, those are all the characters I can be. They're all inside of me and I just have to find the right tools to get them out. I have to watch similar characters, understand the emotions, maybe even use my writing as a way to connect with them. I can't box myself into what I think 'suits' me and what doesn't, because in actual fact, anything can suit me. And while I may not be able to play certain characters now, I can find something true and genuine about that character in me and develop it, and watch things and learn from them and work on it, and that's what actors do. It's acting. Method acting is living, and that's fine, but don't try to tell me that non-method acting isn't partly living as well.

So that's what I wanted to say. It helped me today, and made me understand something new. Maybe it'll help you as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's in a story?

"The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on,
And all your piety nor your wit can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears outwash a word of it"

As a would-be writer and a lover of all things fairytale despite my so called 'adult' age, I figured I should take a more technical approach to stories and have a look at how they tick, or more importantly, how they work.
Don't you ever find it odd that a story, made up of single words put one after the other, can effect us so much? I'm sure, to all of you that are readers, that if I said tell me a story that you will never forget (whether it's a book, a short story, a fairytale, a poem, even a movie) something would come to mind. (if your interested in sharing, post a comment!) Basically, stories do something to us ever since they were 'created' so to speak. Although stories are the kind of things that just are. They don't have a day of creation where the first story was ever told. We've had fairytales for hundreds of years, and even before that, we had mythology and religion. Yes, even religion is a form of a story. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying religion isn't real, but a story can be real, can't it?
I read somewhere that the difference between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction tells a story of something that could happen, and fantasy tells the story of something that can never be. I disagree. The whole world is a fantastic story on it's own. How much fantasy do we live? As I said above, think of religion. That's a terrific story, and one that is most definitely fantasy. An all-knowing being that no one sees, something that no one knows is real but still people believe in it so strongly and that's what gives it it's strength. It grows and expands and has hundreds of bodies: Ra, God, Odin, Yahweh, Zeus. Now someone tell me that that isn't the makings of a great fantasy novel.
We live in fantasy, that much is plain to me. Stories are all around us, and maybe that's what makes it so fascinating for us. Reading a story, watching a movie, even playing a video game, all of these are little fragments of reality that we use to catch a glimpse of the whole story we live. They're means by which we can take a part of life and look at it closely without getting too overwhelmed by it.
Interesting, no?
Sometimes I feel like I just throw out my thoughts onto this blog with no real clarity so apologies if this post seems a little vague. The thought just occupied my mind today so I thought I would put fingers to keys and send my jumbled opinions out there to whoever cares to read it.
I also feel as if I did have more to say but I've kind of lost it now. Oh, yes here we go I just remembered. I promised a while ago that I would post the full chapter one of my book on here. I'm really working at getting it out there so have a read, and if you have something to say don't be afraid to comment or let me know. All help is muchly appreciated!


Chapter 1

The sound of footsteps echoed around the empty hall while the boy walked. Each step cast him in a different light as he stepped in and out of the brilliant, dancing rainbows that the stained glass windows reflected onto the tiled floor. The light cast halo’s of colour around his feet and for a moment he stood still, strangely captivated by its beauty, but soon he felt an eerie presence in the room and so he hurried on. Finally he was in the very centre of the room. Ahead of him was the mysterious archway that called him onwards. The archway was made of pale grey stone, which, in the reflection of the windows, seemed almost blue. Its top right corner was partly collapsed and small pieces of rock lay around it. Similar fragments of stone were scattered around the room as well, but the boy ignored them. The ancient archway filled every crevice in his mind. He had to reach it. He strained his eyes to see what lay beyond the distant archway, but all he saw was darkness. Then, as he tried to peer into the darkness further, his eyes slipped out of focus and away from the archway. He blinked, but was not deterred. Again he tried to focus but again his eyes refused to be controlled. They repeatedly shot away from the archway and onto a window or one of the many columns that lined the hall. Entranced by his puzzle, he took a step forward. His stomach dropped as he realized the mistake he had made. Before he could pull his foot away it slipped into the floor as if it was water. The floor quickly hardened around his ankle. He tried to tug his foot out, desperate to run to the archway and escape the room. Losing his balance, he stumbled and nearly shrieked in frustration as his other foot slipped neatly into the trick-tile. Overwhelming panic filled his mind as he tried in vain to pull his feet out of the ground. The panic consumed him for a moment, but then he looked up at the archway and realized he was defeated. All that lay beyond it was darkness, but the boy now understood that it was not normal darkness. He watched as the darkness pushed out of its confines in the archway. It was a cold, creeping darkness that the boy now feared more than anything. It rolled across the hall, aiming blindly for a victim. It turned over pieces of rubble and tossed them aside when there was nothing underneath. It was searching.
The darkness turned and started to creep towards the boy. It didn’t know he was there, but it soon would. He suppressed a scream as a feeling of dread settled deep in his stomach. Please don’t find me, he thought frantically. Please leave me alone. But it was too late. The black fog had found him. It seemed to turn its invisible eyes on the boy as it advanced. It wound its way around him, forcing out any clean, natural air and filling the space with its foul, fetid stench. The boy held his breath, knowing what would happen if he breathed in the darkness, but he needed air and his lungs were soon screaming in protest. Before he could stop himself, he gulped down the fog, spluttering as it burned his throat. Immediately, the drug took effect. He felt his mind detaching itself from his body. His eyelids started to droop and his head sagged on his chest. He fought to stay upright but he was already sinking into the tiles. Weakness overcame him. With a moan of defeat, he fell to the ground and slowly sank into the darkness.
Arein awoke with a start, gasping for air. His arms flailed wildly for a moment as he struggled to get traction on reality. When he soon realized that he wasn’t sinking through the tiled ground he lay still, his eyes as open as possible so as to prove to his mind that the nightmare was over and that he was safe in the little wooden cart, breathing in the hot afternoon air rather than the thick black fog.
“You okay back there?” Aurius called from the front of the cart. His voice was gruff, but Arein could detect the note of worry that the large man tried to hide.
“F-fine…” Arein stammered back, pushing a few locks of brown hair off his sweaty forehead and willing his heart to stop beating so frantically. “Just a dream,” he added quietly, more as a reassurance to himself than to Aurius.
He pushed himself onto his elbows and took a few steadying breaths, letting his eyes move from tree to tree as the cart passed with excruciating slowness. They had to be closer to Eastpond now. It had been two days since they left Kasimir School. Two days in which Arein had had nothing to occupy his mind but Aurius’ infrequent explanations and the unchanging scenery. Again and again his mind wandered to the thoughts he was trying so hard to ignore; the image of his house; his parents faces; his sister; the fear, doubt and sadness that he couldn’t shake off. When they had passed by the little wood that hid his aunt and uncle’s home Arein had to turn away and push down the tears that were so willing to spring to his eyes without warning. He had wanted to leap from the cart and run through the trees to his sister who would be so confused. He had wanted to apologize to his aunt and uncle and let them look after him like they had intended. He wanted – he just wanted.
The cart rumbled on and Aurius whistled to himself as he held the reins. He had no objection to sitting in a hot cart for hour after hour. Unlike Arein, he seemed to actually quite enjoy it. Arein let himself think about the day he met Aurius and tried to smile in response. The expression felt odd on his face and he soon dropped it. He wondered, dimly, how long it would be till he smiled again. Never, he thought. Probably never again. The memories came flooding through as if taking their cue from that one small thought. Arein flinched inwardly, clamping his eyes shut and willing the memories away. But maybe he could deal with them now. Maybe he wouldn’t hurt so much if he allowed just one memory to leak through. He carefully gripped his heart with his mind, holding it as tightly as he could so that no pain could possibly filter through his fingers. The grip felt too tight, as if he was squeezing his whole stomach, but it was better than what he would feel without it. Hesitantly, Arein drew on a memory, pulling it from his mind as if it were made of glass. It was a harmless memory. It was the morning of the competition, before he had gotten involved in the mess he was now in, before he had seen…
The memory was whisked away and a new image filled his mind; his home, the kitchen wall smeared with red, the broken glass from the windows dusting the floor, the dark smudge on the counter…
Arein only felt one deep stab of pain before he blocked it out. He was getting better at it – practice makes perfect after all. The wall he was constructing in his mind was stronger now, strong enough to be tested. So he hadn’t been prepared for what the memory could trigger, but now he knew and his wall was ready.
For the second time, Arein drew the memory out. He kept the wall up as he closed his eyes and remembered. He could almost smell the bread his mother had been baking when he had woken. His favourite bread, with sesame seeds on top and pumpkin seeds inside, was sitting on a plate waiting for him. His mother looked so excited for him; she always liked to make a big event out of anything. He was so brave to be entering the competition, she would say, he needs all his favourite foods to give him good luck. Breony, her name was. The image of her standing at the kitchen bench, kneading a massive wad of bread dough, her curls springing from a messy bun, was still so vivid in his mind. Her tall slender figure, the small nose and olive-coloured skin that Dedea had inherited. Arein looked quite different to his mother but people always commented on the angled brown eyes that they both shared. Arein, they always said, looked like his father, but if you wanted to see a younger version of Breony you would look no further then little Dedea. His little sister loved being compared to Breony and would beg their mother to pin her curls up in the same way and buy her the same clothes. On occasion Breony had done just that, purchasing two white blouses and two maroon tunics, one pair a miniature of the other. Arein remembered how much Breony had laughed when Dedea, in her brand new outfit, had imitated their mother to near perfection. She had floated around the room humming Breony’s favourite song – a haunting melody that never seemed to have been given words – and puffing in mock anger when a curl came loose.
Arein tried to lock that image in his mind. The smiling face, the laughter, the little lines that would appear at the corner of Breony’s eyes that would betray her mirth even when she was trying so hard to be serious. His father Miran used to tease her, always making her laugh no matter how cross she had been. That smile, that image was exactly how he wanted to remember her.
So far so good, Arein thought dimly as he retreated from the vivid memories. If he could remember his mother without feeling the pain than the wall was working. His mind lingered on her face for a second more before he moved on. He remembered how after breakfast that day Dedea had begged him to take her to the traders’ stalls. He could see her face – hopeful and yet mischievous – gazing up at him. How she had always managed to look as if she was up to no good was beyond Arein. Even when she was on her best behaviour she would smile, her big brown eyes lighting up, as though she knew something no one else did. Arein had smiled down at her and shook his head.
“Not today, Deds,” he said. “I’m busy.” She had frowned and marched away, looking sulkily at their mother. She never liked being told that she couldn’t be with Arein. His little sister was only five years old, but she adored Arein and followed him everywhere. His mum often had to distract her, braiding her thick, curly brown hair while Arein slipped out the door with a grateful smile.
Arein quickly checked the mental barrier once more before turning his mind to the rest of the memory, to the rest of that day that had started it all.

The traders had just come to Traidenvale, and by that morning they had set up their stalls and were busily advertising their wares to anyone who would listen. They came once every two months, spending four days in Traidenvale’s town square. They alternated between the other towns in their country Taelodis, of course. They began in Wood Heights, the place where most of the traders were born and lived, and moved through Eastpond, to Traidenvale and lastly to Harbour Estates. The other cities they passed were deemed ‘bad business’, sometimes because of the location, but mostly because of financial gain. Places like Milgrove Bay were barely even considered. There was no point setting up shop in a place where no one has two coins to rub together, let alone squander whatever money they earn on trinkets. Rather than waste time, the Traders visited only the busiest or – in the case of Harbour Estates – richest places. Arein was glad that he lived in a place of relative wealth. There weren’t many of them in Taelodis and everyone who lived there knew it. The only source of income for Taelodis was trade, and even that was hard to come by. Few other countries wanted to have anything to do with Arein’s homeland. People were distrustful, people were afraid and so they kept their distance. As a result, Taelodis was an isolated country. It only maintained country status by its trade value. Right on the shoreline, it was the biggest source for seafood and shipping exports. The richer towns worked together to improve the economy; Wood Heights by providing wares to trade and sell; Eastpond by reeling in countless fish each month; and Harbour Estates for their docks and boats. It was a precarious system, but one that had been working for many years without fail. And while there were poor towns, poverty could not be completely eradicated even in the richest country. Arein’s father often told him to be thankful for their comfortable position, and he heeded his advice. Miran was a glassblower and quite a successful one too. He owned a shop in the square that had started out selling small glass bowls and trinkets. Over the years it had grown in popularity and was now a large business, exporting specially ordered vases, ornaments and even windows across Taelodis. The stained glass windows in Arein’s house, and even in many houses throughout Traidenvale, were a testament to Miran’s trade and success.

On that day Arein had walked through his town with mounting excitement for the competition ahead, barely even paying attention to the trader’s stalls that he normally waited for with anticipation. He would have time to come back later on, he reminded himself. He remembered with strange clarity how his eyes had lingered on the stained glass window of the church for a few moments, thinking proudly how he had helped his father make them. Two of the windows sat side-by-side depicting the duality of the religions main god. The nine lesser gods were displayed in smaller windows spread evenly around the church, each window showing the true nature or the god. Arein had never been a religious person, nor had his family. Taelodis had followed Lytheanity, a polytheistic religion, with devout discipline. Of course, that had quickly changed when the countries king squashed their faith underfoot with a few well-placed executions and rampages. But despite the lack of belief the churches still stood, and people still learnt about the power of the gods.
Yes, religion had been a part of all their lives. But not even a priest could believe in the goodwill of the gods after a king like Folzar. His rein had been before Arein’s time, but he had heard the stories. People were still suffering the grief his evilness had caused. Folzar had destroyed their homes, their lives, their joy and happiness. He had come into Taelodis in a whirlwind of violence and anger just when the country was thriving. He had come from across the seas – from what country no one knew but no one had the courage to ask. He had killed their rulers – King Phibius and Queen Ardunna – with brutality and frightening relish, throwing their country into instant turmoil. He ascended the throne, killing anyone who stood in his way. So many people died at his hands, so many foolish people who had thought they could rally an army and overthrow him. They had all died, leaving wives, mothers and children alone and afraid. Taxes were raised and if they couldn’t be paid, the debt was settled by taking a person to the castle to be a slave. Singlehandedly, Folzar drove the country into ruin until not a single coin was left. Any godly presence that had been watching over before had fled, taking with it the hope and happiness of every single person.
But just as all seemed lost, an army entered Taelodis. The Corels, they called themselves. No one knew where they had come from, or even who they were, but they made their aim clear: to help Taelodis. They came from around Ivy Hills and no one saw their faces till after they had overthrown the mad king, but they could see what they did. The small towns around Ivy Hills bore witness to it all. Bright lights burst from the castle, sounds of shrieks, calls of fear, noises that could not possibly be real like the roar of a lion, a creature that had only been seen in far distant countries by the few people who were brave enough to venture from Taelodis’ borders. The people were afraid and even when the Corels emerged, making their victory known, the people of Taelodis regarded them with weary suspicion. Their trust had been shattered and rumours travelled fast. They knew the Corels had power that exceeded the natural abilities of humans. They were not human, that was clear from their appearance. They were tall, slender people with pale skin and even paler hair that shone like silver. High boned and regal looking, they exuded an elegance and peace that made them almost frighteningly beautiful. Though Arein had never seen them, he heard stories, mostly about their sapphire blue eyes as clear as crystal and as piercing as a knife. On the day of Folzar’s defeat, they were led by a woman – a young woman by the name of Sharlin. Despite her attempts at peace making, Taelodis would not – could not – trust her. And so the Corels had bowed their heads and left without thanks. They did not leave Taelodis completely, however. They set up their home beside Wood Heights, building a city that they called Corelet.
Arein shuddered as he thought about their destination; Corelet, the city of the Corels, the famed home of Sharlin. It was all too much to accept. But there they were, in a cart that was taking them across Taelodis to Wood Heights and then to the Corelet. He imagined what it would be like, striding through Wood Heights to Peachvale Trails as if he was welcome there. The trails were the only way into Corelet, unless you wanted to travel through Dover Forest, or Forestmont, both dangerous woods that sat on either side of the famous city. Behind Corelet on the left, next to Dover forest was the sea. On the right, next to Forestmont was Ivy Hills. The land behind Corelet promised to be equally as dangerous as well. No, the only way to the Corels was through a path that they had made. It was an obvious choice for the Corels to make it as hard as possible to get to them. After all, they were welcome with more or less crossed arms when they arrived in Taelodis, and for a few months to come they had to endure endless distrust and anger at their presence. The people of Taelodis wanted a new king but no one would dare help their country after a disastrous ruling and a magical race who had set up camp near the castle. And so they were kingless and helpless. The Corels never left though, even when a few furious people had stormed to their city with, quite literally, pitch forks and burning torches. Despite the anger they received, they only ever treated Taelodis with respect and care. Though they were magical beings, they were kind and their persistence eventually won them the hesitant trust of Taelodis. Then, after months of pain, the people of Taelodis elected the Corels their new leaders. Sharlin became the queen of Taelodis as well as the empress of her own people.
“Aurius,” Arein said, lying down with an arm thrown over his eyes to shield them from the relentless sun. He felt like he needed a break from the thinking, from maintaining that wall. He had to sense when it was shaking, and right now it was. “Where are you from? I mean, you haven’t said where you grew up.”
“Atlia,” Aurius replied over his shoulder. “I grew up there with my family but I didn’t stay there long.”
Arein detected a note of something in his voice. Was it bitterness? “Why not?”
“Well what’s there to stay there for? Arein, Taelodis doesn’t provide much entertainment, unless you want to farm or fish or move to Wood Height to go into trade.”
“So, you moved to Corelet?”
Aurius chuckled. “Can you really imagine me living in Corelet?” He paused. “No. I left Atlia for a bit of adventure. I travelled around Ivy Hills for a while, and eventually I realized that maybe I could do something more. Something to help the country. Well, one thing led to another and here I am.”
“On the way to Corelet…” Arein mumbled glumly.
“Oh come on,” Aurius said. “I know it’s all a bit of a shock but really, think about the opportunity you have! Going to Corelet! Meeting Terensalia!” The enthusiasm that only appeared in Aurius when he spoke of his work fired up again and Arein chose to stay silent, not really in the mood for another inspirational rant. Noting Arein’s silence, Aurius added quietly, “If nothing else, think about how you’re helping Sharlin.”

It still didn’t seem real to Arein. That Sharlin was… No, it couldn’t be real. She would be fine; it was probably just an exaggeration. Bolen hadn’t seemed too worried when he had told Arein the news. Bolen was Arein’s friend. His only friend, really. He had always been shy, and had never found it easy to connect with people but Bolen had been so easy to talk with that Arein actually enjoyed spending time with him. He had been there at the competition. Of course he was entering. With his strength, why wouldn’t he? Bolen’s father was the fisherman, Trall. He had owned a business in Eastpond but had moved to Traidenvale soon after establishing it. He still managed it from home, occasionally going on trips with Bolen to make sure all was well. His strength was a result of endless fishing trips, hauling in massive nets laden with all kinds of fish. Bolen had inherited his muscles, and his reputation as the strongest boy in Traidenvale was yet to be challenged. If not for the difference in age, Bolen and Trall would be very difficult to tell apart. The only way Bolen did differ from his father was his gentle nature.
The thought triggered something in Arein’s mind. He blinked as the memory flooded back to him…
The town square had been busier than normal that day. The traders had all set up their stalls and were loudly advertising their wares to the passers by. Arein inched through the crowd to the small stage where the competitions were usually held. Just as he suspected, the newcomers stand was set up at the foot of the stage and a small group of contenders stood on the stage looking around awkwardly.
Arein hurried through the colourful stalls, trying not to be distracted by the various trinkets that caught his eye; he could come back tomorrow.
As he approached, he saw a man standing at the foot of the stairs that led to the raised platform. He was tall with black hair the same colour as his skin. His eyes, a luminous brown, surveyed Arein with a hint of amusement. Arein cast his eyes down and noticed the man’s bulging muscles under his plain linen shirt.
“Name,” the man said in a deep, authoritative voice.
“Uh… Arein.”
The man looked down at a list he held in his hands. “Go through,” he said, gesturing to the platform. Arein inched passed him and joined the group. He was surprised to see that the majority of them were teenagers, around his own age of sixteen. Arein looked for a familiar face, smiling when he saw Bolen. He stood out as being the tallest in the group, and also the most imposing. His eyes flitted past Arein but he showed no signs of recognition. Arein guessed Bolen was just as nervous as he was and so he stayed quiet.
He waited in line with the rest of the boys as more latecomers slowly arrived. They were all around the same age as Arein and were jostling and nudging each other good-heartedly as they waited.
After a few minutes more, another boy arrived, this one younger than the rest, maybe twelve or thirteen. His brown hair had flecks of blonde as if someone had sprinkled the colour over his head. As he joined the group, he flicked the sleeves of his forest-green silk shirt away from his wrists and folded his arms. Despite his obvious confidence, his face, which was turned away from the group, still held the roundness of a child He must have been the last name on the list for the man at the foot of the stairs rolled up his piece of paper and climbed the stairs to the platform.
“Have you all willingly entered this competition?” he asked, looking at each contestant in turn. A low grumble was all the reply he received from the young men. “Have you all willingly entered this competition?” he repeated impatiently.
“Yes,” they all chorused.
“Then there is no backing out from here. Whatever task you are set you will complete it. Whatever prize you receive you shall accept it. Is that understood?”
The youngest boy scoffed. “Who wouldn’t accept a prize if they were offered one?” he muttered loudly to the boy next to him. “What a stupid thing to say."
The large man ignored him. “My name is Aurius,” he said. “I’m here to lay down the rules for this competition. One, you must play fairly. The judge is not one to tolerate cheating and neither am I. Two, you will not enter the tent until it is your turn, and once you have been assessed you must wait on the stage until everyone is finished. Now, you will be tested in strength, intelligence… among other things.” he stopped abruptly as if being interrupted. For some unknown reason, he winced before he continued speaking. “Jerard, you’re first.” The boy, Jerard, stepped followed Aurius nervously, disappearing into the crowd and out of sight. All was silent for a moment and then the slow rumble of conversation began to fill the air.
“Well, lets see who the competition is, shall we?” a voice called out loudly. It was the young boy. He stepped out of the line and began walking past each boy with an arrogant air. Arein frowned, not liking the boy’s manner.
“Garreth? Why bother…” the boy said, addressing someone Arein couldn’t see. He continued to walk up and down the line, commenting on other contestants. The nerve of this boy! Arein turned away, unwilling to have to speak to the boy but couldn’t help but turn when he heard the next name.
“Bolen?” the boy exclaimed with mock surprise, “Fancy seeing you here!”
“Do I know you?” Bolen replied standing with his arms folded across his chest.
“Me? Oh, I doubt it. I don’t socialize with the likes of you – although I have heard of your strength.” Who was this boy? Bolen had a reputation for his strength – everyone knew that – so why wasn’t this child watching his tongue?
“I haven’t heard a thing about you,” Bolen said, unfazed. “What’s your name?”
“Lanassen,” the boy replied and the name sounded familiar to Arein.
“Lanassen, eh? What are you doing at a competition like this? Shouldn’t a kid like you be at school in Harbor Estates?” Harbour Estates housed the best school in Taelodis. It was a boarding school and was possibly the most expensive place you could ever go. Arein’s parents had thought about saving up to send him there once, but Arein had flatly refused. He would not go away from his family for year after year just so he could name old kings and read a map. He knew how to read and write and his father taught him math whenever Arein came to work with him. He was perfectly content to just take over his fathers business when he was older, and he didn’t need to spend bags of gold each year to learn useless information.
“Didn’t feel like classes today,” Lanassen replied casually. Bolen shrugged and went to turn away, but Lanassen whipped a hand out and grasped his wrist. Bolen turned back, confused, and their eyes locked. They froze like that for a moment. The other boys started to laugh quietly, expecting Bolen to put the boy in his place, but nothing happened. Bolen and Lanassen seemed completely frozen. They didn’t move.
Arein approached uneasily. “Bolen?” Bolen didn’t react. Arein moved closer and saw Lanassen’s face up close. His eyes, a light, clear blue reflected Bolen’s face unnaturally clearly. But there was something else reflected in his eyes, something slowly unravelling like a spiders web… Arein lent in too far and stumbled, knocking Lanassen’s shoulder. The boy’s attention snapped onto Arein in an instant.
“Get off me!” he spat angrily. Arein stepped back, surprised by the vehemence in Lanassen’s words.
“Arein!” Bolen said suddenly, noticing Arein for the first time.
“Hi Bolen,” Arein replied quickly, steering them both away from Lanassen who was staring at them furiously. When they were on the other side of the platform, he looked at Bolen carefully. He seemed dazed, his eyes a little too glazed over.
“How are you Arein?” Bolen said, breaking the silence that had fallen. Arein didn’t hear his question; he was too preoccupied with his own.
“What happened just then?”
A look of confusion fell on Bolen’s face. “What?”
“With that boy?”
“What? Oh! That…. I don’t know…” he trailed off. “Got any idea what the prize could be?”
“Not really…” Arein replied, suspicious about the sudden change in subject. He decided to let is pass. “Normally it’s money, or maybe they’ll buy us something from the traders.”
“I don’t think it’s money,” Bolen replied eagerly. “I think it’s a trip somewhere.”
“A trip!” There were so many places he had heard about, so many places he had wanted to see. Bolen nodded. “I heard that man, Aurius, talking to some old man. He was saying that they have to ask whoever wins to pack their bags straight away so they’re not late.” A smile spread across Arein’s face. A trip. That was the best prize he could hope for.
“I hope it’s to Corelet," he said. Sitting in the cart, remembering his own words, Arein scoffed. Bolen had frowned at him. “I doubt it. It’ll be far too gloomy.”
“Gloomy…? Why?”
Bolen’s eyes widened. “Don’t you know?”
“Know what?” Bolen had caught his curiosity. Gossip of other places rarely came to Traidenvale except with the traders, and most people barely knew the goings on of their own country. Even Arein’s mother, who seemed to know everything about Taelodis, hadn’t mentioned a thing.
“I thought everyone knew now… It’s all the traders are talking about.”
“Can you please just tell me?” Arein laughed, growing impatient.
“Sharlin’s dying.”
Arien’s smile dropped off his face in an instant. He remembered thinking: Sharlin can’t die! No High Corel can… And he still hoped that thought was true. He hoped that High Corel’s couldn’t die, just like he had been told all his life. They were the Corels who lived in the very heart of Corelet; in the place they called the Silver City. The High Corels were like Corel royalty and Sharlin was the most royal of them all, being the Emperor’s daughter and therefore the Empress of Corelet and Queen of Taelodis. According to Corel religion, the High Corels could only die if they were called on by the Devine – their Goddess. They just kept living for hundreds of years until they were called, and when they were they were perfectly healthy. Not one High Corel had been ill or in the process of dying. It was just unheard of.

A jolt in the carriage pulled Arein out of his thoughts and into reality.
“Sorry!” Aurius called cheerfully from the front of the cart. “Ran over a rock.”
Arein stretched his back and looked around for a moment. It was getting dark now and they sill hadn’t reached Eastpond. Aurius had promised Arein that they wouldn’t take the cart the whole way and had eventually decided to take the cheapest boat from Eastpond to get them to Wood Heights. But at the rate they were going, Arein doubted they would get to Eastpond before the fishing boats left for the next trip.
“Where are we?” Arein croaked, surprising himself with how unwilling his voice was to form the words.
“Well, we just passed the road to Traidenvale an hour or so ago,” Aurius replied thoughtfully. “If we keep going through the night we should get there before morning at least.”
Arein paused. “And then?”
“Then we take the fastest boat to Wood Heights and get to Corelet,” Aurius replied tonelessly as if he had said it a hundred times.
Arein exhaled loudly. “Do we have to?” he muttered, but Aurius heard and huffed in annoyance. “Would you just cheer up a bit?” he demanded. “You’re damn special so stop complaining and just deal with it.” Arein bit back an angry reply and put his arm across his eyes, blocking out the setting sun. After a moment of silence, Aurius sighed.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry – but you have to move on. It’s been what, almost two months now?”
“One month,” Arein replied stonily.
“Fine, a little bit over a month then. I know you can’t just forget about what happened but you need to… you know, move on with your life,” Aurius finished lamely, obviously not sure how to counsel a still-grieving teenage boy. “Look, you’re sixteen, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, but if you keep going the way you’re going your never going to be happy again.” He paused. “Just… think about it.”
Silence fell and Arein tried to distract his mind by feeling the steady thump, thump, thump of his heartbeat on his hand. He fought the fresh surge of tears that were burning his eyes and clamped his mouth shut. He needed a memory to distract him, he needed the wall again. Arein hastily pushed the wall up and grabbed the first memory he could think of; the first time he had ever seen magic.

A few of the boys had already had their turn in the tent and had trudged back looking dazed and confused. Whatever was involved in the competition stayed a mystery for none of the boys would tell the others what had happened. They just stood in line waiting, occasionally throwing a worried glance over their shoulder. Finally, it was Arein’s turn.