Conversations in the Sky

It is a warm evening in Amberfall as the rains wash over the city, blanketed by the glow of the setting sun. The Amberglow is full effect for everyone still walking the streets of city. Clambering road vendors hastily shelter their goods and tavern goers stand in awe with their ales at hand as Mithron’s gaze simmers through the rain drops causing a cascade of colour to fill the sky as the sun beams through the stained windows of the glass towers dotting the illustrious Glass Quarter.

‘It is so beautiful, isn’t it grandmother?’

Little Aeliana, a daughter of House Emberheart, is reluctant to climb in to bed as she stands on the balcony of her bedroom window looking up to the sky. The Amberglow doesn’t happen very often and she wants to take it all in.

‘It is my dear but I think it’s time you got back into bed now. You wouldn’t want your uncle to rile himself up into a temper again, would you?’

Lady Isabelle Emberheart, mother to the late Lord Lothar Emberheart, is sitting patiently on the edge of her granddaughter’s bed.

Aeliana sighs. ‘It doesn’t seem to take much for him to get mad these days.’

‘I know but try to remember, he is a busy man with much to do. Our baroness has taken up quite a bit of his time lately and it is his duty as the head of our House to see that we do our part to aid the war effort.’

‘The Dothylfar, they won’t be coming here will they grandmother?’ she asks as she clambers into bed, becoming quite cosy between her emerald coloured sheets.

‘Very doubtful. The war is far too the east but there is still much that needs to be done. It is not for us to sit idle whilst our countrymen fight valiantly to defend Ayrlaston.’

Aeliana pushes her sheets aside and sits up eagerly, grasping her grandmothers hand as she stares intently into her palm.

‘I hope they do come here.’

Isabelle is a little confused by her granddaughter’s odd desire. ‘Really? Why is that?’

With vigour in her voice and a prideful gleam in her eyes, Aeliana positions herself upright as if she were delivering a message to the people of the city.

‘Command the Silver Legion to stand aside and let the Bloody Horde march to the gates of Amberfall! Then they shall suffer the wrath of Isabelle Pyremane, the greatest pyromancer in the history of House Emberheart.’

Isabelle chuckles to herself as she ushers Aeliana back under the covers.

‘I see you’ve been listening in on meetings tended by grown-ups where little girls ought not find themselves. Anyway, I think your great, great grandfather would have had something to say about that proclamation my dear.’

‘Lucien Emberheart? I’ve read about him but I have seen what you can do. Those burglars never stood a chance when you turned the embers in our fireplace into a flaming wolf. They were so startled when you sent it charging toward them. It was spectacular!’

Isabelle gently presses her finger onto the tip of Aeliana’s nose. ‘You weren’t frightened?’

‘I was.’ 

Aeliana responds by playfully pressing her own finger onto Isabelle’s nose, giggling as she does.

‘But I always feel safe when I am with you.’

‘That is kind of you to say dear, however, I hope to never see you placed into such a dangerous situation as to have to do anything like that again. I would happily trade away all of my fire magicks if it meant you would grow up never knowing the horrors of this world.’

Aeliana looks into the misty eyes of her grandmother and smiles as Isabelle caresses her cheek.

‘I know but if the Dothylfar burst into this room right now, you would burn their bloody bones to dust, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you grandmother?!’

‘Aeliana!? Such language, you surprise me.’

Isabelle tries her best to give her granddaughter a disapproving grimace but she can’t help but smile at her exuberant attitude toward the line of fire magicks running through her House lineage.

‘You bloody bet I would’ she quips as they giggle to each other.

Aeliana squints as she looks out of her open window to see that the Amberglow amidst the gentle rains has all but come to an end. The sky is now almost pitch black but for the stars and a stream of purple light in the distance.

‘Do you know what my own grandmother once told me?’ asks Isabelle.

‘Don’t yell out whilst sitting in the court of the baroness and sit still’ responds Aeliana hastily.

‘They sound more like your uncle’s words to me.’

Aeliana nods with a huff as she has become all too familiar with that phrase.

Isabelle continues. ‘Once she told me, on a warm evening just like this as she was putting me to bed, that you can tell which of the gods are talking to each other just by looking up at the colours of the sky.’

‘Really!?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wow! The sky is purple and black so who is talking right now?’

‘Well, a black sky is to be expected. The sun has set over the Summerpeak Mountains after all. When the night veil shrouds the sky, the Aeons, Samaia and Ashyara, begin to talk to each other as they do every night. But we have a bit of purple on the horizon don’t we so who do you suppose has popped in for a visit?’

Aeliana thinks hard as she tries to recall her lessons about the gods and their influence upon the world of Ayl’gard.

‘Erm, is it Mithron?’

‘I’m afraid not. Mithron is the god of the sun so he only appears during the day. At night, he rests so that his sisters may rise. Have another guess.’

‘Is it Siroth? Lucrecia? No, is it Amon?’

‘Three guesses eh? Cheeky girl.’

Isabelle moves in closer as she points to the purple hue in the sky.

‘It is Lucrecia, she has joined her sisters for a little gathering.’

‘That sounds delightful.’

‘I dare say it is. Perhaps they will have tea and cakes.’

‘And raspberry jam on toast?’

‘And raspberry jam on toast.’

Aeliana pauses for a moment to think further about the last few nights and the colours she saw in the sky whilst trying her best not to become distracted by thoughts of tomorrow mornings breakfast.

‘Last night, there was a bit of green as the sun set I think. Who would that be?’

‘Green? That could only be Ysana, goddess of the rivers, the forest and all that dwell within.’

‘What if it is orange? Like it was last week when you took me to the Festival of Summers End?’

‘Ah yes, I remember that. Your uncle tried to scold me for letting you stay up so late’ Isabelle says with a knowing grin.

‘I reminded him of the time I took him to that same festival when he was your age. He soon shut up about it.’

Aeliana delights in the knowledge of her uncle’s childhood, which she has heard little about up to this point.

‘Regardless, orange means fire. It represents the roaring flames of the twin gods of war…’

‘That would be Kohnar and…. erm!’

‘Come on Aeliana, you know this. I mentioned them last week when I read to you that story from our library.’

‘Kohnar and Morighan’ Aeliana responds as quickly as her memory will allow.

‘Precisely. Well done.’

‘What if it is still a little blue? A deep blue like from the sea, is that Maellor?’

‘Excellent my dear. Using your good common sense, are we? That’s my girl.’

‘And if it is red, like blood, the sky is bleeding as Moloch has emerged from his eternal tomb. Is that right?’

Isabelle stops for a moment, rendered speechless by her granddaughter’s words as her skin prickles and the colour drains from her face ever so slightly.

‘Where did you learn that Aeliana? Answer me!’ demands Isabelle sharply.

Aeliana sinks slowly into her bed sheets. ‘Did I say something I shouldn’t have grandmother? I’m sorry.’

Isabelle embraces her granddaughter, wrapping her arms around her to reassure her whilst scolding herself with a sigh for reacting so firmly.

‘You haven’t said a word that I would consider to be wrong my dear. You just, what you said took me by surprise. The name you just mentioned, Moloch. It is one that I haven’t heard in many years.’

‘Cousin Tristan told me about him. That he was once a brother to the gods until he betrayed them.’

‘Your cousin is correct but that shan’t stop me having words with the little imbecile! There is a reason Moloch is referred to as the dead god. His name and everything that was once associated with him was buried, along with his followers, many thousands of years ago. By bringing his name back from the ether of the Hollow Plane, we breathe life into a dark, very distant memory. One that ought to be left forgotten.’

‘Spooky!’ says Aeliana with wide eyes.

‘One day, when you are much older, I’ll tell you all that I know of the Treacherous One. Right now, it is time to go to sleep.’

‘Very well grandmother.’

Aeliana jostles with the covers as she lays her head upon the soft pillow whilst her grandmother begins to dim the candlelight in the room, one by one.

Isabelle lays her hand upon her granddaughter’s head before she leaves. ‘Good night Aeliana. I’ll come and wake you in the morning. I’m taking you to the city market and we’ll pick up some of that raspberry jam that you like so much.’

Aeliana beams with a smile as she struggles to contain her excitement. ‘Can I ask one last question before you go?’

‘One last question. What is it?’

‘What does it mean when the sky is pink?’

‘Pink? Well, that is colour your cousin’s cheeks will turn once I’m finished slapping some sense into that dim-witted fool of a boy who thinks he can fill my granddaughters head with such nonsense.’

‘Is there a little pink in the sky right now grandmother?’

Isabelle walks over to the opening overlooking the balcony and gently closes the stained-glass windows before slowly drawing the curtains shut.

‘Why yes Aeliana, I believe there is.’

Whispers – From Fragment to Fiction

They are speaking to me again!

Who are they, those voices who whisper words to me across a veil as thin as thought?

Don’t worry folks, I’m not suffering from some severe mental deficiency that conjures an overtly passive aggressive yet oddly charming phantom version of me that is attempting to persuade me to plot the murder of a couple of vertically challenged, hairy footed fellas just because one of them has a shiny golden ring! I am of course referring to those voices that come accompanied by the conversations that emanate as a result of the effort you have put into your work as a writer of fiction. Or in my case, fantasy fiction. To create a world of fantasy and to populate it with creatures and characters can be a particularly satisfying process. Now I find that this world, Ayl’gard, which was once as empty as a graveyard with only a vague historical template in place is becoming busier and busier with each passing week.

It is a peculiar feeling as a writer isn’t it? To sit down and create a piece of prose where your characters are having a conversation with each other but through you. Without your words to bring life to a scene or a chapter, they may as well be banging their heads on brick walls in utter frustration for their inability to converse without the guidance of your hand to put into place their thoughts, feelings and echoes of intent. We provide that forum for their connections. I open the door for them, ask them to come in and I swear it is like I am merely a spectator sitting by the side, merely giving a voice or two to a situation that is unravelling marvellously before my eyes. All in my own head at first and then onto the page.

Did I mention that this is all very peculiar? But a good kind of peculiar. Not ‘Oh there he goes again staring through the neighbours windows with his pen and notepad looking for inspiration and smiling as they give him the finger whilst secretly disappointed they aren’t inviting him in for some tea and biscuits’ peculiar! There are plenty of opportunities to gain inspiration without resorting to pissing off the neighbours.

So who are they really, these fragments? Where do they come from? Are they figments of me, my imagination, because I often ponder the possibility that this world of fantasy I have created and populated with fictional characters is slowly acquiring some sentience. A life of its own. And such a notion, as ridiculous as it might seem to some, is absolutely brilliant to me.

Some regions of Ayl’gard are quieter than others when formulating ideas for stories, I will be the first to admit. Of the three continents I’ve created thus far, it is the cities and settlements of Gaiaden that have been the busiest. I’ve written a fair bit about the Middemire region and the Barony of Amberfall as some of you who visit here regularly will be aware. Not that there isn’t a mild din of voices coming from the other two, Terraden and Valleden. Maybe I have a subconscious preference for the people in Ayrlaston and Lochland just because they were the first to be crafted from the chaotic cauldron of whispers and words that is my mind. I think what brings me joy in this regard is that there is someone speaking to me from every corner of this world and it would be my utmost pleasure to be able to tell those stories. Some day.

Many writers amongst you will probably have some inkling of what I am referring to. All it takes for your characters to get chatty with each other is a few embers of imagination and those first few lines of dialogue on the page. For any of you who are just getting started for the first time with your character creation and might be uncertain as to how to proceed, just have a go and do as I suggested. Eventually you may just be filling your pages with conversation after conversation from characters beginning to take on a life of their own. In time, some of these fictional fragments may become fictional entities that will form the basis of your own story.

I don’t get the opportunity to speak with many writers face to face and so it is difficult for me to gain insight into the creative processes of others without delving online for verification of my own personal brand of weird. For the purpose of full disclosure, I am a little weird and I am completely fine with that. I think an element of ‘weird’ might actually be an unwritten, softly spoken requisite for being a writer of fiction.

How do you approach your characters and their development my fellow writers? I am intrigued.

Forged From Reverie.

 

 

Final Fantasy VII: Where It All Began – Part 2

If you wish to read the first part then hop aboard the train to Sector 7, last stop – the Train Graveyard.

Final Fantasy VII: Where It All Began – Part 1

As mentioned previously, there will be some minor spoilers relating to the story.

Final Fantasy VII showed me for the first time the concept of an untrustworthy narrative due to the unreliable memories of its primary protagonist, Cloud. This changed my perception of the story when relating to his counterpart, a lost legend risen from the shadows whose background is coated in a great degree of sorrow and twisted circumstance that is Sephiroth, whose past was heavily manipulated by other forces to forge him into the destructive being he finally became. Every character was distinct with their own unique perspectives and personality. You’ll have the chance to explore their own histories, their reasons and motives for carrying on despite the overwhelming pressure of forces working against them. The overprotective and headstrong Barrett, the sombre yet powerful Tifa, thoughtful and wise Red XIII, enigmatic Vincent, playful Aeris, deceptive Yuffie, upbeat Cait Sith, excitable Cid. All of them were created in a manner that made me realise that my companions weren’t just there to make up the numbers. They were important, they had a purpose, all were meaningful in the grand scheme of things if you take the time to speak to them, listen to them and help them when the time comes.

I loved progressing these characters through combat, to watch them slowly become more powerful as the game continued. Cloud, Barrett and Red XIII were my chosen three for my first playthrough, though through subsequent runs I began to use each of them at different times where I thought it most appropriate for them to shine. I treasured every orb of materia that I collected and salivated at the unknowable prospect and tactical battle variations that lay at the heart of each possible piece. I trembled in amazement as the planet shook to unleash its terrible wrath as its monstrous Weapons were let loose upon a world that abused it. Damn you Ruby Weapon and your incessant need to murder my people at every possible opportunity because I lacked the necessary preparation skills as a mere child filled with an impatient desire for victory! (I experienced this defeat many times) And the loot, oh did I come to love the loot! This game offered me my first taste of what would become a lifelong desire, the never-ending quest to keep tracking down all of that in game, in any game, loot. Nothing could beat equipping each party member with their ultimate weapons and watching as I cleaved my way through the late game Behemoths and Marlboros with satisfying ease. I even began to appreciate the prospect of chocobo racing and breeding, which at first seemed to be little more than a confusing and frustrating distraction. Even this, a completely optional mechanic, can yield great rewards (Knights of the Round summon materia – hell yes!) for those who travel far to seek and abide by the knowledge of the Chocobo Sage in the quest for that hard earned, elusive golden chocobo.

‘The knowledge and wisdom of the Ancients is held in the materia. Anyone with this knowledge can freely use the powers of the land and the Planet. That knowledge interacts between ourselves and the Planet, calling up magic.’ – Sephiroth’s explanation of Materia, FFVII’s magic

One of my most fundamental experiences with Final Fantasy VII came around the ten or so hour mark for me. Up until this point, I had assumed that the entire game would be taking place in the malevolent metropolis of Midgar. After escaping the Shinra building on a motorbike, an unexpected minigame added to the mix to keep things interesting, with my comrades following alongside in a truck that I had to defend, the next phase of the game kicks in to reveal a depth and scope that had my jaw wide open as my eyes temporarily lost the ability to blink. The world quite literally opened up for me. It gave players an opportunity to roam the landscape, battling a variety of fiends and monsters with every attempt to continue along this wonderful journey. I’ll never forget my first encounter with the monstrous Midgar Zolom, a thirty-foot cobra with a vicious bite, and being almost wiped out with just a single move.

I’ll also admit to it getting a little weird at times, such as certain parts of Wall Market for example, which is not entirely unexpected considering the cultural differences between western audiences and Japan. There were some obvious translation difficulties as well. Some of the scenes were, let’s say, I didn’t fully understand them until I returned to the game as an older, more experienced person. If you’ve ever watched a film recently that was a childhood favourite and then had that ‘Oh yeah!’ moment when returning to it as an adult, you’ll understand what I mean. This just makes the game that much richer in context though. It is large enough in scope that there is something to be gained every time you decide to restart it and have another go.

If the legacy of FFVII could be summed up in one, offering but a single example of the profound effect it has had and still continues to have to this day, I would have to mention the moment, THAT moment when something and someone is taken from you in a solemn instant of utter devastation. A moment of heartbreak without equal. A bitter calm at the end of a blade. Every fan of fantasy can relate to a fictitious tragedy that just took their breath away and left them empty and aghast for what seemed like an age. If you talk to readers of A Song of Ice and Fire about the Red Wedding, you can see spark in their eyes dim into a sullen shadow as they recollect the instance. For fans of Final Fantasy VII, we will always remember the moment we lost a treasured companion to the merciless whims of a warrior lost to madness and sorrow. Two decades later, this is still remembered as a quintessential example of just how powerful the story of a game can be.

‘What I have shown you is reality. What you remember… that is the illusion.’ – Sephiroth

I’ve prattled on for quite a bit now about this much-loved darling of the industry but honestly, it is no more than it deserves. I could probably write another several thousand words on the subject and how even after all these years, from my first time playing the game one dreary weekend, it still has such a profound grip on what a quality story of fiction and fantasy should be like. It set a huge standard for me going forward in the years to follow.

My friends at school eventually began to tire of my incessant desire to regale them of my adventures because I just wouldn’t shut up about it. Sorry lads!

Without Final Fantasy VII, I doubt I would be quite the same man I am today. My eyes were opened to new possibilities and I fell for the genre of fantasy in all of its glorious forms because of this game and what it showed me. From the very moment Cloud jumps down into the streets of Midgar, wielding his Buster sword and battle ready, to fight alongside Avalanche in a war to decide the fate of a dying planet, the flickering fire of my curiosity was set alight and by the games end. With one brutal Omnislash against the hero’s arch nemesis, the flames were fanned even further into a blazing inferno of passionate appreciation. The sheer range of emotions I felt, the awe, the joy, the dread and the sorrow, they would keep me coming back. I craved more. I needed to see and do everything this game had to offer.

From here I moved onto other stories, other books, other films, other games, all giving me new concepts and perspectives to consider. It was, and always will be, an absolute inspiration to me and was one the first stones laid in what would become the foundation of everything that I create to this day.

I wonder how things would have turned out for me had I not asked my grandmother for this game? Perhaps I’d be writing spy thrillers if I’d discovered Goldeneye on the N64 instead. Oh, who cares! I’m off to play Final Fantasy VII again.

*Begins to hum the boss battle music to get psyched up*

I’m coming for you Sephiroth!

Forged From Reverie.