Personal Rejection

Writing can be a hard thing for a number of reasons. Even after we’ve got past all the actual writing and editing and finally have a finished product, it doesn’t get easier. There’s all the query material, the finding of agents, and of course the waiting. Damn, the waiting. 

The places and people that give you a time frame for you to wait are few and far between. The number of responses you receive are only marginally higher than that. Normally, it’s just a form rejection, which is understandable given the load of stories agents have to go through. It might be easy to think that even adding a brief line should only take a moment but that’s an easy rabbit hole to fall down, and keeping on top of things is too important. As someone who’s worked in many fast paced work environments, it’s something I sympathise with. 

That doesn’t mean getting a form rejection is easy. It’s never easy and it’s never fun, though I certainly appreciate not being left hanging. 

The real jewel in the sea of sadness that is publishing rejections is the personalised rejection. So rare it may as well be mythical and carrying the same heavy weight of all the usual rejections, but with a glimmer of hope scattered across its surface. A kind word about the rejected piece is all it takes to turn the discouragement of the rejection into something far more. A clue as to why a piece was rejected can transform the hollow feeling of “I’m just not good enough” into something constructive and tangible that can be worked on. That one simple act can turn the whole thing around. 

Being rejected always sucks, but acceptance letters aren’t the only ones that can bring a little happiness and motivation. 

Creative Break(through)

Given the current circumstances, I’m actually impressed that it took me this long through the year to hit my wobble (though it was just terribly timed right after my “look at how well I’m doing! post. Talk about a jinx). With COVID, a huge amount of work stress, and the death of a very old and beloved pet as just a selection of the things going through my head for the past few weeks, my creative ventures and presence online disappeared for a bit. I’ve had a bit of a recharge though and gotten through it, and hopefully I’m back on track for the rest of the year. 

Creatively, I’ve had a lot going on in my head but a complete inability to put it down on paper. This has been for both writing and art. There were a lot of things I wanted to do, new shiny ideas I wanted to explore as a way to deal with the current state of life. All these attempts have failed though, and I had a reminder over the weekend to keep things simple. Often, simple is the best way. 

I had been struggling with the thought of drawing anything, and when I tried it just wouldn’t work. Eventually, after a month of failing and being frustrated, I decided to go back to my very first passion as an artist. Wildlife. 

Drawing characters and concepts is 99% of what I want to do as an artist. I want to get all these fantastical creatures and people out of my head and into the world in a viewable way. For some reason though, the thing that comes most naturally to me is drawing animals. So I finally threw my hands up in the air and decided to do a quick sketch of an otter. It was the best decision I could have made, and I felt the walls of art block come tumbling down. 

For writing as well, I was convinced that I needed to pour out some personal passion piece to get myself through this time, but it simply wasn’t working. It would have been nice, sure, but the idea that this would help me was actually holding me back. I know now that what I should have done was simply look back and a tried and tested story I still need to work on and keep chugging away at that. 

So that’s what I’m going to do. 

You know, along with trying not to disappear for a month and a half for at least another year.

The 2020 Halfway Post

It’s July, which means it is time to review how I’m doing on this year’s goals! As I’m certain most of you are also feeling, this has been a very odd year. This post feel about 9 months overdue and also about 3 months early at the same time. Seriously, 2020 really needs to get its act together. Anyway, on with the post!

*

1.) Start doing blog posts again – This has gone well so far! Two posts were one day late but aside from that, we’ve been rocking and rolling. I’ve managed to keep this up through some pretty rough patches so hopefully the momentum sticks and we keep going for the second half of the year.

2.) Finish TE1 synopsis (by 28 Feb) and keep on submission – You may have guessed from my last post that the time lines were derailed on this one but good news prevails in the end. I hit the original deadline of 28th of February but then… Just didn’t send it out. Working with my therapist has been really helpful though, progress has happened and as of June 15th Through the Black has officially been on submission! I also have packets ready for the next couple of agents for when this one comes back. There’s a plan in place to keep up this momentum so there’s no stopping me now! 

3.) Get Fishperer beta ready – This is on track! Been working away at it and all of the comments have now been addressed. It’s scene by scene time now, then it’s onto the big print out and check, then bish bash bosh we’ve got a beta ready MS! Just need to keep at it. Handy that a certain Camp NaNo event just started, amirite? 

4.) Complete a Goodreads challenge – This is one that has started terribly but I’m hoping to pick up a little in the second half of the year. I don’t know with so much time wasted if I’ll hit the endgame goal but I’m determined to make a decent dent in it regardless.

5.) Do enough art to do the end of year meme – Some months have been better than others, and at least two have literally only had ONE piece of art, but that still fits the criteria so I’m counting that as a win. What I do count as a big win is that my folder for 2020 art now has more in it than any other year since… well, since before university. And we’ve still got six months to go! Let me tell you, that’s a great feeling and I can really see some improvements with my stuff. I missed art so much. It feels great to have it back in my life. 

6.) Hit weight goal – Not great progress on this one but with everything else that’s been going on in my life and the world in general, I’m not too surprised or worried about that. 

*

Overall and considering the on goings both personally and not, I’m pretty pleased to have gotten to where I am. Some things are going slower than I would like but everything is moving forward. I hope you’re all out there smashing your 2020 goals, but if you aren’t I’m pretty sure there was never a better excuse.

Take care of yourselves and do what you can. Personal progress is nice but in the face of a global pandemic, looking after yourself and those close to you is the number one goal.

Eyes Closed, Head First, Can’t Lose

There was no post yesterday because I intended to make a far longer and more detailed post about my last two weeks. I’ve been flip flopping back and forth but I don’t think the time is right or that I’m ready. Needless to say, I’m going through Some Stuff and have been working with my therapist on some things that are getting twitch-inducingly close to the root of my issues. After several years of trying to get help, to finally be on the right track is great – and way scarier than I was ready for. 

Why am I waffling about this on a writing blog? 

Mental health affects everything – especially the stuff we don’t want it to. People who have followed this blog for a long time will be sick and tired of hearing about me being “ready to query” or “so close to querying” or “just this left to do!” This has literally been going on for years. Years! It probably came as very little surprise to everyone after the third or fourth time when it was revealed that the Great Querying Event never actually happened. The most frustrating thing for me though was why did it never happen? I was ready. Have been ready. For a long time. It turns out though that there was a very specific mental health thing holding me back.

That thing has been identified. My therapist wants to try treating it with exposure therapy and asked what we should start with. Sod it, I thought, this has been going on too long. Querying has always been such a huge mental blockage for me, especially for this novel. Was choosing something this big a terrible place to start my healing journey? Or did I really need to do something drastic to kick start this process? Honestly, it feels like I did the right thing, even if it’s been a very, very difficult process. 

I did it. I sent the query. I have a list of next-up agents for when the rejects come back. Sometimes, you just need to take your life advice from the wise Jake Perulta*.

Jake from Brooklyn 99 with some life advice.

*I would not recommend this as a regular occurrence. 

Testing the Snowflake Method – The Results

A long, long time ago, I started trying out the Snowflake Method of planning a novel. The original post is here and considering that this was to be a very small side project, it’s somewhat escalated (see Monarch Necrotic). The rough draft of this novel isn’t completely finished yet, but has come far enough that I can make some assessments on how this method of plotting worked for me.

What didn’t work

Let’s start with the bad side of things. Despite all the meticulous planning (in fact, some issues are because of the planning), the novel is going to need a significant amount of restructuring. Due to the nature of the planning, the novel has ended up with a lot of extraneous scenes, many of which are going to end up being cut, with only small portions being shifted into other places. It’s going to take a lot of work to turn this into a streamlined, well paced story. 

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons for me originally trying out the Snowflake Method was to try and minimise the huge issues I generally have with rough drafts and reduce the extent to which I need to rewrite things. This has, unfortunately, not worked. However, like with anything, using this method is going to be something that requires practice. Now that I’m aware of what issues it creates, I can be more aware of how to avoid them during planning and how I ended up making these mistakes in the first place. I’ll be a lot more aware of not reducing each scene to a single concept, and condensing things a lot more efficiently in the future.

So why am I talking about using it again when it didn’t do what I wanted on this try? 

What did work

I had some issues with the method, or rather how I implemented it, but with hindsight I can see where I went wrong and how I could tackle a different project. Even without considering that though, I wouldn’t abandon this method because it came with some fantastic benefits. 

World building is normally something I normally do on the macro scale before starting, then do the small details on the fly as I go. Most of my world building generally occurs after the rough draft, when I know what I need to know and can add in the details later. While this works for me, it contributes to the extensive rewriting I need to do on the second pass. With this method, I knew which areas of world building would need to exist for this particular story, meaning that I could work on those details before starting and meaning that I didn’t need to tweak or twist anything later in the story that didn’t fit. I could fit story points around things that had already been worked into my world. It also meant that I could add more detail to these things on the first pass, creating a deeper and richer world.

The other great benefit I found was with characters. My usual approach to plotting involved just that. Plot and story. Characters were generally bare bones concepts that were allowed to develop as I wrote the original draft and, as with the world building, that tended to lead to a lot of rewriting. Character interactions all have to be altered and more often than not what made sense for a hollow placeholder character to do when I started made no sense for the fully fleshed out actually-having-a-personality version of the character that emerged at the end of the story to do. 

The meticulous levels to the character planning in the Snowflake Method meant that all of my characters had really strong voices and personalities before I ever started writing the stories. The characters can play a far more prominent role in shaping the story, rather than things having to be re-jigged later. It also made it very clear when a character was just there “because” or solely to hold up someone else. I could see these issues and ensure that each and every character there had real drives and motives. It allowed the very story to have more soul to it right from the start, rather than have it crowbarred in later with great effort and anguish. These benefits alone have made me very pleased I tried this out. 

Will I use it again?

While I’m going to try and refrain from starting any new novel projects until I’ve got some of the many I’m still working on in to something resembling finished, I’ll definitely be trying this again in the future. Now that I know where I’ve gone wrong on the plotting front, I think I know how I can eliminate some of the major issues I’ve had in the past. Considering the amount of rewriting I usually have to do anyway, I think the payoffs here have been well outweighed by the benefits. Though it is amusing that it gave me the opposite of my usual problem (having to flesh out an overly short draft vs a draft full of unnecessary bloat). Having relatively recently made my first attempt at truly pantsing a story (writing with zero prior plotting), I can definitely say that this style works better for me. 

Plus, and perhaps most importantly, doing it was just fun.

Organisational Tools: Trello

One of the things about me is that I find it difficult to have just one project on the go, and I have far more than one creative hobby. As such, it can be quite easy for things to get lost along the way to completion, to forget my progress on something, or just forget about a project entirely. I’ve tried several systems for keeping track of things in the past but none have really captured what I wanted or needed.

Enter Trello.

So, in my day job, last year I was assigned to a team that works using a management system called “scrum.” Now, ignoring my personal feelings on that, there was one particular aspect of it that I really liked. The Scrum Board. A board with all current works to be completed within a certain time period, laid out in columns including “to do,” “in progress,” etc. And I thought there was a far more fun application of this than WORK.

I did a quick search and found Trello, a website that allows you to make your own boards for your own projects. I did, and I love it. What are some of the features that make Trello work for me?

Columns are the first useful thing. This is to separate out what state everything is in. The above screenshot is from my personal board, which holds ALL my projects in it. I have “In Waiting,” for everything that I want to do, but isn’t currently on my radar. “To Do” is for things I want to start working on next. “Doing” speaks for itself and of course “Done” is the WOO HOO column. In particular, I like having the distinction between the “In Waiting” and “To Do” columns because it stops me feeling overwhelmed by too many projects, while giving me the reassurance that nothing is being forgotten about.

Example Trello column headers.

Projects or tasks are made into “cards” that can be moved about the board. These cards can be given as much or as little detail as you want. The ones on my personal board vary wildly between paragraphs and paragraphs of detail to just the title. You can add due dates, attachments, and custom fields of your own. I have a custom field for estimating the “size” of a task, so I have an idea of what I’m getting myself into while looking through my list to pick what to work on next.

Example Trello cards. Ignore that overdue blog post…

One of my favourite bits of Trello is that it lets you add brightly coloured labels, which speaks to the part of me that has many binders covered in brightly coloured sticky markers. This is very useful for me in particular as it allows me to keep all of my projects on one board while still being able to pick out what sort of thing I’m looking for at that point in time. These can all be customised, so the board tells you what you need it to tell you.

Example Trello labels.

And finally, another personal favourite. Be it a badly scrawled post-it, the back of my hand, a phone app, or that expensive notebook I’ve finally worked up the courage to use, I love making lists. Lists are awesome. Not only does Trello let you add checklists, it lets you add multiple to one card. For example, one my novel progress I like to have checklists with the big steps such as “rough draft,” “first draft,” etc but I also like smaller ones so that I can track progress on the actual part I’m working on. A sense of progression helps me keep working, otherwise it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by a project that doesn’t feel like it’s moving.

Example Trello card checklist.

So this is Trello and why I love it. It’s also very easy to keep up to date, which means… that’s right! The Project Status page is getting revamp! And by revamp, I mean a link to a public, trimmed down Trello board that will display all my project progress in an easier to handle fashion. Here’s a nice direct link to the CM Schofield Progress Board

Do you have your own methods for organising your projects? What do you find works for you?

The Tower of Storms: Part 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Tamin had descended the stairs a half an hour prior. Baird waited, back pressed against the wall adjacent to the entrance. The only entrance. They were at the top of the tower here, with nowhere to go should things go wrong. A good few things could – Tamin betraying him being at the top of the list. He hoped against that for several wildly varying reasons.

Something stirred below. A voice. Baird held his breath and tightened his grip, sword in one hand and the mark of Oblear in the other. In Baird’s former cage was a makeshift dummy constructed from straw and armour taken from the dead. It was a poor likeness but the plan wouldn’t allow the sorcerer to stare for long. Echoing footsteps rose from the stairs.

“Idiot boy,” the elder grumbled, voice carrying up the stairwell. “There’s no way that fool could damage my bars, I don’t care what chemicals you thought you smelled.”

He reached the top step, striding past Baird into the room. A thrill went through him – this might actually work. The sorcerer halted.

“What the-“

Baird lunged, bringing his sword down in a sweeping arc towards the fiend’s back. With unnatural speed the sorcerer half turned and looked at Baird with wide, manic eyes. In the time it took for Baird’s sword to move an inch the sorcerer thrust out his hand. It felt like he had just been slammed in the chest by a bear. He took off from the ground and was thrown down the stairs. The impact knocked what little air he had left completely from him. His armour protected his bones from the solid steps but momentum and gravity sent him tumbling down the rest of them, landing in a dizzy and aching heap, wheezing for breath.

By the time he had his senses the sorcerer was already stood over him with a satisfied smile. Shouldn’t have taken the pendant off, Baird thought as a hacking cough racked his body. I hate magic. His sword could have been anywhere but the chain of Oblear’s mark was still wrapped around his fingers. At least he still had that – and the elder sorcerer hadn’t noticed it yet, instead calling for Tamin. He appeared from behind one of the painted wood partitions on the other side of Baird, looking timid.

“Come here, boy,” the father said and Tamin reluctantly approached. “Now is your chance to repent for this morning.”

“Yes, father.”

Uh oh, Baird thought.

The elder sorcerer turned his attention to the still struggling adventurer. “You’re going to tell me how you got out of that cage.”

Ratting out Tamin would just get them both killed. Plus Baird wasn’t exactly the type to bend to his enemies’ will. He was much too stubborn for that.

“Rot in the Pit,” he spat.

“As you wish,” the elder said before nodding to Tamin.

The young sorcerer paled. He lifted a trembling palm toward Baird. Baird froze, his hope extinguished under a volley of ice water. Tamin’s mouth twitched, eyes watered.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Baird didn’t know what to say. The young man was terrified of his father. This life was all he knew. All Baird could do was brace himself for pain. Tamin thrust his hand forward and he winced.

A gust of wind blew through the room. It tingled Baird’s skin but assailed him no other way. The elder sorcerer exclaimed in surprise as his clothes passed through his flesh as though through water, billowing out and falling onto the steps behind him. It took both Baird and the sorcerer himself a moment to adjust to the fact that he was suddenly stood there in nought but his boots.

Baird was the first to react, pushing himself up with one hand and throwing the mark of Oblear hard at the wretch’s chest. The sorcerer thrust out his hand and a look of panic struck his face as the sigil sailed past his fingers. Baird grinned. The sigil hit the sorcerer square in the middle of his saggy, sallow chest.

He opened his mouth but no sound came, face twisting in agony. The sigil stuck to him and the flesh around it turned grey, blossoming in a grotesque wave across his body and turning to dust. He crumbled away until there was the clattering of bones into a dusty pile. Baird held his breath, watching the remains, but no retribution came. A small, pained sound came from behind him.

Tamin was on his knees, face in his hands. The weather raged on outside. Baird pulled himself up and crouched next to Tamin, wrapping his arms around him. Tamin’s whole life, everything he had ever known, just disintegrated before his eyes. It was seconds before the young sorcerer’s arms were around Baird’s neck, face sobbing into the metal plated crook of his shoulder. It could have been relief or despair. Probably both.

Baird resisted a long moment but could no longer wait, hating himself a little for his lack of restraint.

“How can I stop the storms?” Baird whispered into his ear as he held him.

Tamin pulled back from him and wiped his eyes, keeping his head down and avoiding Baird’s gaze. He rose to his feet and headed for the other partition, giving his father’s ashes and bones a wide berth. His movements bordered on mechanical. Baird felt a pang of guilt as he followed.

“What happened to him?”

“The mark turns the user’s magic against them,” Tamin said, voice small. “The magic that kept him alive past his years reversed.”

Baird placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

They rounded a partition and came to a grand bedroom, lavishly plastered in rich fabrics and gold adornments. At the end of the master bed was a mahogany pedestal, a glowing blue orb upon it. Turbulent mist twisted and warped beneath the surface. Baird was drawn to it, soothed by it. Warming, unseen tendrils snaked into his being, calming his bruises and setting his mind at rest. He was unaware of his hand moving slowly toward it until Tamin grabbed his wrist.

“Don’t,” he said. “It makes people strange. Like father. Like mother.”

Baird’s skin crawled and he withdrew his hand. “What do I do?”

“Shatter it,” Tamin said, voice cracking slightly. “Set her free.”

Baird shook his head clear as the orb’s influence took another stab at him. He glanced behind himself and saw a small foot stool. Not wanting to risk the thing’s spell a moment longer, Baird grabbed the stool in both hands. He spun, bringing the makeshift bludgeon down on the orb with all his strength.

This was it, his moment, his self-appointed destiny. It all hinged upon the word on a man he just met.

The orb did not shatter. The stool sunk into it and it burst like a soap bubble. Mist from within swept into the air like a puff of pollen. Baird stumbled away but Tamin stayed put, releasing a giddy laugh. Baird panicked. Had he been played? The mist engulfed Tamin and he collapsed in a haze of blue, falling to the floor. Baird backed against the partition wall as the blue spread but it did not approach him. A warm, pleasant voice filled his mind, forcing upon him a brief wave of euphoria.

The ancients will not forget this heroism.

The mist was gone. It didn’t so much vanish as it just wasn’t there anymore. Worry struck him as he realised the voice was the last thing he heard. He smacked his ears with his hands but became confused as his armour rattled. His jaw dropped. He clambered to his feet, dashing past an unconscious Tamin, and approached the window.

No rain lashed against the glass. No wind howled, rocking the building. In that moment, Baird experienced silence for the first time in his life. It frightened him, the vast emptiness of it, the sheer depth of nothingness. Before that fear could grow too deep, the sprawling black clouds split like curtains and a beam of golden light fell upon his face. He began to tremble as he lifted his hands to his cheeks. It was warm.

Baird dropped to his knees and laughed. He’d done it. He’d actually done it. He laughed some more. Of course he had. He’d always known he could. Definitely. He pushed thoughts of the cage away and pulled off his gauntlets, wiping the joyful tears from his face. He loosed a deep exhale and buried his triumph. He needed to check on Tamin.

The young sorcerer hadn’t moved since he collapsed, breathing softly. Baird knelt next to him, carefully brushing the hair back from his bruised face. He looked so peaceful it was almost a shame to wake him. With his other hand, Baird softly tapped his shoulder.

“Tamin?”

It took a couple of attempts before Tamin’s eyes fluttered open. Baird frowned when they did – they were a rich, swirling blue. This faded so rapidly, returning to the proper soft grey, that Baird was certain he’d imagined it.

“Are you alright?” Tamin said as he tried to focus his weary eyes.

Baird blinked. “Me?” he asked, incredulous. “Of course I am! I’m a famous adventurer! You’re the one who collapsed.”

“Oh…” He closed and opened his eyes a few times. “Yes, I am well,” he replied. Physically at least, Baird thought. A sadness hung about him.

Baird smiled. “Good. I have something to show you.”

He helped Tamin to his feet. He was unsteady and shaken so Baird took the liberty of wrapping an arm around his waist. Purely for support. Tamin didn’t complain, leaning his weight against Baird as he was guided to the window. He gasped as they stepped into the warm beam of light, face filling with wonder at the landscape before them, laid out clearly for the first time in both their lives.

“It’s… incredible.”

Pride swelled in Baird’s chest. He had done this. Of all the heroes who had come and tried, it was Baird who had succeeded. Released the Glen. Avenged his father. Without Tamin though, he never would have. He grinned as he looked out of the window. He couldn’t quite see Glen Feen but the view was more than a victory for him. Flat, barren and laden with water, to Baird it was beautiful. He pointed to the horizon.

“You see where the sky touches the land?” he asked. Tamin nodded. Baird looked down at the slight man and their eyes met. “Just beyond lies your new home.”

They smiled at each other and looked back to the landscape, damp and bedraggled as it was. At his side, Baird’s fingers lightly grazed against Tamin’s. Slowly, their digits twined together as they both watched the clear blue sky before them.

And Baird would even have been telling the truth, if they had been looking out of the other window.

Fin!

A Very Brief April CampNaNo2020 Update

Trying to do NaNoWriMo in the middle of a pandemic has been an interesting experience, definitely. It wasn’t helped by my addictive personality and a wonderful gift from my partner for my birthday which devoured a lot of time. I’m not regretful of that at all, to be honest. If people ever needed a good distraction it’s now, and it is a great outlet for creative energy too – and probably one that I’ll talk about in another post. Working from home full time is difficult enough. Maintaining concentration past that to keep writing has been a huge struggle.

With five days left, I have a third of my word goal left to go. Uh oh. The actual numerical value is, on paper, something I’ve smashed out easily in normal times. These aren’t normal times though and I’m determined not to beat myself up about it if I don’t hit that goal. No matter what happens between now and the end of the month, I still have ten THOUSAND more words towards a full draft of this novel and that feels like a lot. 

I guess my point is, celebrate your successes and don’t sweat the small stuff. 

The Tower of Storms: Part 3

Part 1 / Part 2

Baird sank to his knees, still clutching the bars, and hit his head against them. The pain took its time in subsiding. Baird breathed through it, letting his mind clear, and when it passed he got to work. First he tried to examine the lock only to find it absent. Nothing physical held the cage closed. Next he examined his belt. Most of his provisions were still intact. He had two different corrosives and tried them both. Neither effected the bars, dripping away as harmlessly as water. The second did a number on the stone floor, sizzling with activity, but he had nowhere near enough to burn a gap he’d fit through. He was well and truly trapped, now in a cell with at least quarter of the floor covered in flesh eating potions.

Baird slumped against the back of the cage with a despondent sigh as he looked to the skull of his cellmate.

“Am I arrogant?” he asked it.

The skull did not respond. For now, he was taking that as a good thing.

Baird rested his head against the bars. His list of ideas had been reduced to sitting there waiting to starve to death. This genius could yet be thwarted by being tortured to death. He’d have to wait and see. He had planned for many eventualities but being taken alive hadn’t even occurred to him. The great Baird of Glen Feen would never get captured, his own words from a few years ago rang in his head. He cringed and despair saw his weakness and pounced.

It hit him like a horse at full gallop, a cold hollowness in his gut where hope and pride once lived. It was all he could do not to cry out. He wouldn’t debase himself in front of that sadist or his son. He was more than that. He was-

Baird bolted upright. His son! His son who, with hindsight, seemed a far cry from his father. His son who, against direct orders, spared Baird’s life.

“Tamin?” he called as softly as he could. The last thing he wanted was the elder to hear. “Tamin, can you hear me?”

There was a shuffle from across the room and he felt a faint spark of hope. He glanced at the stairs and risked another whisper, eliciting another shuffle.

“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” came back Tamin’s small voice.

“You were supposed to kill me though,” Baird replied. “It would appear you have an issue with authority. I can relate to that.”

“Please,” Tamin said desperately. “He’ll punish me.”

“He’s going to kill me.”

There was silence for a moment before the young sorcerer’s face appeared from between two rows of cages.

“If you’re so afraid of him then why not kill me?” Baird asked.

Tamin rested his back against a cage and drew his knees up to his chest. “Sometimes they leave.”

“I’m not the first you’ve let go?”

He shook his head. Things began to make sense. Only in recent years had deflated wannabe heroes returned. Before that, nothing. By the gods.

“You’re not like him,” Baird ventured.

“I just…” Tamin trailed off, staring at the ground. “I don’t know why we have to kill. I don’t know why we need the storms.”

A thrill went through Baird. “The woman on the lower level… Your mother?”

Tamin nodded. “She wanted to stop the storms.” He wiped a tear away with one of the long sleeves of his cloak.

“He killed her?”

“He’ll kill me too if I help you.” The young man’s eyes met Baird’s. They were stormy grey. Tormented.

“I’ll kill him first,” he replied, pulling himself to his feet. “I have to. Do you have any idea what these storms have done to us?”

Tamin’s jaw trembled as he shook his head.

“Let me go,” Baird said. “Help me and I’ll show you what we’ve had to endure. Take you to the Glen and show you what we’ve lived like.”

Tamin’s head lifted, eyes wide. “You’d free me?”

Baird blinked, speechless. Then internally cursed himself. It hadn’t even occurred to him that the young man was a prisoner. Parents don’t need bars to hold their children captive. Tamin was one of the people he was trying to protect. He pulled one of his gauntlets off and pressed himself against the bars, threading his arm through and holding his hand out to Tamin.

“Come to me.”

He looked startled a moment but slowly rose to his feet. He approached Baird’s cage with caution and took an age to raise his hand, quivering like a leaf. Finally their fingers met and Baird stared into his eyes again. There was something there, inexplicable yet powerful. He felt for this man. Something made Baird desperate to protect him. His resolve hardened.

“I swear to you, Tamin, get me out of here and I will stop these storms. We will both leave here together as free men. I swear by the ancestors of the Glen, I will make this true.”

Tamin trembled, water welling in his eyes. Baird took his hand, smooth and warm, and pulled him close, eliciting a gasp. Baird threaded his fingers through Tamin’s and reached his other arm through the bars and around his back, holding Tamin against the cage, against himself. Baird towered over him. He could see the small man’s face clearly, slim, and sharp. 

“I swear to you,” Baird whispered, drawing his face closer to Tamin’s. “Help me, and I will see you free or die trying.”

Tamin’s voice caught so he simply nodded. Baird’s hope ignited to a flame. Pulled by Baird’s grip, the small man suddenly jerked closer, pressed fully against him, one hand resting against Baird’s breastplate. The bars along that side of the cage were gone. Vanished, as though they never were. He turned his face back to the young sorcerer. He’d done that without lifting a finger or uttering a word. Baird was free. He squeezed the sorcerer’s hand before letting go and gently cupping the side of Tamin’s face.

“Thank you,” he said. Tamin winced and Baird lifted the stray lock of sable hair away from his cheek. It had been concealing a deep purple bruise, peppered with cuts. It wasn’t fresh. “I’m going to kill him and then you’re coming with me.”

Tamin nodded and said nothing. Baird forced himself to let go of the man and retrieve his sword from the cell floor. He was free again and it felt good. He did however have more pressing matters to attend than hugs, such as killing the sorcerer that hundreds of adventurers before him had fallen to. Great. No problem. He stepped out of the cage and Tamin backed away, still skittish. He did a quick check over his arsenal as he thought up a plan.

“I need him thinking nothing is wrong,” Baird said as he worked his hand back into his gauntlet. “I need you to go down there just as you normally would.”

“I’ve never been up here before,” Tamin said, wringing his fingers together.

“Never?” Baird asked, lifting his head to peer at him. Tamin nodded. “What made you come up today?”

“You.” Baird’s eyebrows rose and Tamin’s mouth flapped open and closed. “I- I mean, you’re different. You’re special.”

The adventurer straightened, smirking. “Am I now?”

“I mean… You can do it.”

This gave him pause. “What do you mean?”

Tamin pointed to one of the sigils on Baird’s chest. “Oblear the Devourer.”

“Yes,” Baird said, picking it up. It was the solid silver stick figure with a shield over the chest. “She led the ancient crusades against the Mages of the West.”

Tamin took another step back and put a hand to his heart, where the sigil had pressed against him. “I could feel it. Burning. If it touches his flesh, he’ll die.”

Baird’s heart fluttered. I knew I could do this.

“He won’t let you get close,” Tamin said rapidly.

“Not without a little misdirection,” Baird said, letting the pendant fall back to his breastplate with a clink.

“I… I thought I just had to let you out. You want me to help kill my own father?” Tamin asked.

“Yes,” Baird replied, blunt and absolute. “He hurts you, keeps you prisoner. He killed your mother.” He held Tamin’s eyes. “And my father.”

“I…”

“Please Tamin,” Baird said. He hesitated. The next words were difficult. Agonising, even. “I need you.”

Wordless, Tamin nodded.

Part 4

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2020

It’s quite amazing how much a person’s life can be turned upside down in the space of three weeks. It becomes an even stranger experience when you know everyone in the whole world is going through the same thing, maybe a few weeks sooner, maybe a few weeks later, but we’re all being effected by this one gargantuan event that has swept the world.

I’m a very introverted person and I’m also very happy staying at home with my various projects, hobbies and games. On that side of things, I’m pretty well set. The issue for me comes from my anxiety disorder(s, as I recently found out) and I’ve been struggling on and off. Mostly I’m fine, but I have off days every so often. I haven’t been doing much of my creative ventures which normally help keep me sane, but I’ve been lucky with the release of a couple of very mental health friendly games (Nintendo always has my back, I swear).

It has made me call into question whether I want to attempt Camp NaNoWriMo next month. Do I want to put that pressure on myself? This is a question I’ve had to ask myself many times over the last few years and the answer has always been the same. I don’t like things beating me and stopping me from doing the things I love is beating me.

Camp NaNoWriMo is a good event to remind myself that I can always work on my projects because it lets you set your own goal. Even doing a tiny goal feels like participating and gives progress to one of my many beloved writing projects. A goal of 15,000 words will let me write the small number of 500 words per day which, on a good day, I can knock out in about 20 minutes. It also gives a sizeable chunk of a novel at the end of the month.

Due to the circumstances surrounding us, I’ll be continuing work on my very unmarketable passion project Monarch Necrotic, which still doesn’t have its own page on here yet. I’ll fix that, I promise. If there was ever a time to work on something just because you love it, now is certainly the time.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve got my struggles like everyone but I am and will be okay. I cope with things by forcing myself to work on my creative projects, because that’s what I love and what I refuse to give up. If that isn’t your process, that’s okay. If you can’t create right now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Find your own way to survive and don’t let other peoples’ methods bring you down.

I hope the rest of you out there are hanging in there and if you’re not, reach out to people. We’re all in this together, and we won’t let it beat us.