Monday, August 31, 2015

The Raelyn Shield

Very little is known of King Raelyn before he took the throne. What stories are told are mainly of the Prince getting into just enough trouble to easily get out himself, or sometimes, getting into something larger than himself and escaping only with the aid of his Royal Father. However, one thing is certain: when he was twenty seven, the Prince was disowned.
It seems that shortly after his sister’s ninth birthday, the Prince became involved in a situation that proved more than he could handle. Whatever the circumstances, his father became aware of his position and deemed it the final straw. Apparently, he felt that the Prince’s handling (or mishandling) of his plight was proof that he was not fit to rule. In order to prevent his kingdom from falling into the hands of the irresponsible Prince, His Majesty King Gyrard VII stripped his eldest son of his title and exiled him from the kingdom.
The story goes that Raelyn was given one week to say his goodbyes to the court before he was to be escorted to the nearest border. Before his departure he was given many gifts by his family, especially by his aunt, Avilina, who raised him after the death of his mother. His last visit was to the nine year old Princess Emayn, later renowned as a patron of the arts and an artist in her own right, whose favorite activities at the time were riding her pony and the newly-learned skill of tapestry weaving. (It is said that one of her earliest weavings was a copy of the famous “Battle of Thannsteig,” and that Gyrard VII proudly displayed it on the palace walls. Although the original remains in the National Museum, the Grand Duchess’ copy has been lost to time).
Emayn gifted her brother with a small shield, which, it is rumored, he had used as a child and had given to his sister when he had outgrown it. She also gave him a lecture, which some chroniclers have chosen to romanticize, claiming that the Princess professed her love for the Prince and declared that she would miss him very much. It is more likely, however, that the young Emayn chastised her older brother in an “I told you so” fashion. No matter the contents of her speech, Raelyn fell silent afterward, and sat quietly in the back of his sister’s room, watching her weave.
It was at this point that Gyrard VII’s artist in residence, Lady Sefare, entered the room. Sefare was considered the greatest master weaver of the period, and had been instructing Princess Emayn in the art. It is not known why Sefare attempted to kill the Princess. It is possible that she was hired by an enemy of the royal family, but some have speculated that the desire arose from jealousy at the talent of the young Princess, or perhaps it was simply the result of a tutor’s frustration with a notoriously difficult student.
Upon seeing the knife in the hands of his father’s trusted retainer, Prince Raelyn leaped into action. Using the gift given to him by Emayn, Raelyn blocked the weapon, saving his sister’s life. Lady Sefare was quickly defeated with the knife she had planned to use to murder the Princess. Though many retellings place the vengeful blade in the hands of the Prince, there are versions of the tale that report that Emayn was the one to end things.
However it ended, the Prince’s defense of his sister earned the forgiveness of his father and his reinstatement as the crown prince. It is unknown how much of this story is true, but its effects can be seen throughout history: aside from the way King Raelyn handled trouble during his reign and his lasting attachment to the Grand Duchess Emayn, any student of history can find, in each one of his royal portraits, a small dented shield sitting at his feet.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Internet Famous

I tweeted about my #momlife this morning, and when I checked twitter again this afternoon in an effort to distract myself from working, I noticed that Famous Footwear had made a little poster of my tweet.
He's done this every morning for the last week or so.

This could mean one of two things:
#1: They’re trying to get people to use their hashtag #momlikeaboss
#2: I’m totally famous now.
I’m just going to go ahead and assume the latter. If you need me, I’ll be basking in the sun on the deck (that’s what famous people do, right?)… where I’m sure my son will soon join me, if only to knock over my glass of water.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Best Perspective

It’s hard being best friends with a superhero: they’re always ditching you at the last second to save a bus full of schoolchildren, you can’t tag them on instagram because that adorable selfie you took together was while they were in costume, and you may occasionally get kidnapped whenever a supervillain discovers your connection to their nemesis. There are good times, too, like when you get to hear about all of the disasters averted and the lives saved and the thanks given.
One evening I arrived home from band practice to find my best friend (who, in the interest of protecting her identity and mine, I will call “Awesome Girl”) sitting at our kitchen table. She had her mask off, her hair down, and her head in her hands. Her cape drifted listlessly from her shoulders down across the cheap linoleum floor. I propped my bass up against the dishwasher and pulled up a chair to plop down next to her.
Then I waited.
I had learned that “head in her hands” was not necessarily AGC (“Awesome Girl” Code) for “I tried to help someone today and failed.” Some days, she’d sit up and happily tell me that she had put a smile on a senior citizen’s face, or done a ribbon cutting at a pet shelter, or helped to find a lost autistic kid. Some days, she had sad stories to share, but we both knew that she needed me there at the end of the day to refocus, to laugh or cry with, and to remind her why she did what she did.
We sat in silence for twenty minutes, just listening to one another breathe. Though she didn’t know it, I kept glancing at the numbers glowing from the clock above the stove on the other side of the room, which told me it would soon be tomorrow instead of today. I didn’t usually mind sitting up late, but we both had classes the next morning, and homework was due in the literature class we shared; all I had left to do was write up a response to the reading assignment, but I knew she hadn’t even picked up the book yet.
Finally, when the clock read 11:48, “Awesome Girl” let out a huge sigh, sat up, and cast her mask to the other side of the table, where it slipped off the edge and fell onto the floor. Then she looked at me.
“What’s up?” I ventured.
“I just want to be normal,” she moaned. “I want to have a stupid crush, and to eat dinner at 9 PM, and to be in a terrible local band.” She slid an arm across the table and rested her head on it, looking at me sideways. “I want to be you.”
I blinked at her.
I did have a stupid crush on the star of our local semi-pro basketball team (who, in the interest of protecting the identities and gigantic egos of all involved, I will call “Taylor”). I had scarfed down some leftovers before the both of us left that evening (she to patrol, I to practice). And I was the bass player and lead singer of, admittedly, a pretty terrible garage band (which, in the interest of protecting the identities and feelings of my bandmates, I will call “Admittedly Pretty Terrible”). But other than that, we were basically the same person in all the “normal” ways. We were both a year away from graduating college. We both loved pizza. We both wanted to make the world a better place and were both using our own unique abilities to work toward that goal.
I knew that what she really meant was, “I’m tired, and it’s so hard for me to see when I’m making a difference. If I could see the world through your eyes, maybe I wouldn’t feel so down.”
So I said, “Have you not eaten dinner yet? We still have some pizza in the fridge from last night. Want me to heat it up for you?”
She gave me a tired smile, and sat up in her chair. “I’ll get it. You should go to bed.”
“No, that’s okay,” I replied. “You can get started on reading that thing for Lit class and I’ll get you something to eat.”
“I totally forgot about that!” she gasped, and dashed from the room.
When she came back, looking like a normal college student in some yoga pants and an old t-shirt, her too-hot pizza steamed delicious fragrances into the air, and a glass of ice sat next to a can of her favorite strawberry soda. She sighed in delight and sat down to get to work.
It’s hard being best friends with a superhero. The bad times aren’t great. Sometimes she’s a second too late to prevent catastrophe. Sometimes the population of the city she protects turns against her. Sometimes she has to save me from a supervillain. And sometimes, she has a burnout day. But the good times outweigh the bad, and when I can, I do whatever I need to do to help her save the world.
“Hey,” I said as I found a place to shove the pizza box into the fridge. “If you were serious earlier… our drummer quit today. You could fill in at our next gig, until we find someone else.”
“Seriously?” She laughed. “Yeah, all right.”
I turned to leave the room.
“Wait,” she called after me. When I stuck my head back into the kitchen, she said, “You’re awesome.”
“Well,” I replied, “So are you.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Her Geometry notebook was filled with sketches: trees, rocks, animals, and shapes. At first I thought the shapes were just part of the homework, but there were more there than “find the surface area of the cylinder” could explain. And strangely, there were more cubes than anything else.
She never talked much in Geometry. She just sketched, and I just watched her sketch. That explained my terrible grade, and why I got a detention during a test when I zoned out while watching her doodle one of the cubes on the edge of her paper.
The detention wasn’t that bad. It gave me a chance to focus on studying, for a change, and I was able to mostly ignore the lecture I got about keeping my eyes on my own paper. As I left detention that evening, I was in the middle of resolving to forget about her, and that cube from her sketches, to pay attention in class… and maybe to sit on the other side of the room so I wouldn’t be distracted by her.
But she was standing across the hall leaning against some lockers when I closed the door of the Geometry classroom.
I tried to pretend like I hadn’t seen her. I shifted my shoulders under the weight of my backpack and turned to walk to the front doors.
“You weren’t cheating off me,” she accused.
I stopped. “So?”
She glared. “So you either have a crush on me―” I opened my mouth to protest, but she continued: “or you want to know about this.” The history textbook she had been holding close had a brown paper bag cover which was covered in her doodles. When she flipped it over, I could see that on the back she’d drawn a larger version of the cube that decorated nearly every page in her Geometry notebook. She’d added detail to the inside of this one, though; there were lines criss-crossing it, as though the surface of the cube was the underside of a leaf, or a city seen from miles overhead, or the inside of a thunderstorm.
“Maybe I just think you’re a good artist,” I replied.
She gave me a look of disbelief as she shoved her history book into her backpack, then tossed the bag over her shoulder. “Come on,” she commanded.
I followed her.
To anyone else, it may have looked as though we were friends walking home from school together, but that wasn’t the case. We were both walking, it was true, and we were both headed for the same destination, but the walk was anything but friendly. Neither of us spoke. I didn’t know where we were going, and that kept me half a step behind her the whole way. Plus, there were the looks she kept giving me: like she was grudgingly letting me in on a well-protected secret, while at the same time, she would happily thrash me if I didn’t go with her.
Several times I nearly asked her where we were going and what we would see when we got there, but somehow I knew she wouldn't answer. She led me down the hill from the school and out of the neighborhood, across the railroad tracks and down another hill, then into the trees. I started to wonder if she was really going to show me something to do with her sketches or if this was elaborate revenge for looking at her Geometry test.
I was so focused on wondering where we were going and why that when she finally stopped, I was surprised, and I didn’t even see it until she pointed it out.
It was a quiet, thickly clouded afternoon. Light found its way to the earth anyway, where it illuminated the ivy climbing up the trees, revealed the different kinds of flowers that carpeted the ground, and reflected off of the gigantic cube sticking up out of the earth.
Art by Andrei Pintea
She spoke first, because I couldn’t. “I figure it’s probably a terraforming cube that didn’t quite finish dissolving,” she informed me. Then she stared at me, challenging me with a gaze to contradict her theory.
Eventually, when I replied, all I said was, “What?”
“A terraforming cube,” she repeated. Sighing as though she was explaining for the sixth time, she shook her head and explained for the first time. “It’s obvious. Every living thing on this planet must be a transplant from somewhere else. Our ancestors dropped these cubes from orbit; probably there used to be cubes like this all over the place, but they disappeared when they did what they were designed for and made the place okay for humans and animals to live. Oh, and they probably killed the dinosaurs.”
I stared at her, trying to ignore the huge, weird cube sitting out in the middle of the trees. Could there be hidden cameras waiting to catch my reaction for some kind of hilarious video? Was this a game she was playing, and she wanted me to play along? Had I stepped into an alternate universe when I left detention?
I couldn’t leave the cube out of the equation. It was huge. It was weird. It was there.
“You watch too much science fiction,” I told her. “It’s probably just a rock. Left over from a building project or something.”
“Like the Great Pyramid?” she asked skeptically, her eyebrow raised. I could tell that she must have considered my idea already. “Yeah, because there are so many ancient wonders of the world around here.”
I looked at the cube and pitched the next thing to come to me: “It’s… an art project! Some students from the college put it here.”
She rolled her eyes. “They must have aced that class. And then they were super quiet about how awesome they are at doing art, because no one but me ever comes out here.”
I geared up and took a final stab at it. “A meteorite?”
I watch too much science fiction?” she replied with a disdainful glance. “I’m sure tons of geometrically perfect things fall out of the sky every day.”
We sat down on some rocks and stared at it.
“Fine,” I said after half an hour or so. “It’s a terraforming cube. All life on the planet is alien to it, and this thing and a whole bunch of things like it are why life exists here.”
She nodded, pulled out a notebook, and started sketching. “And now that you know what it is, you’ll be able to concentrate on Geometry. You can stop staring at my notebook.”
“Maybe I just have a crush on you!” I scoffed, offended.
She leaned away from me, obviously disgusted. “Do you?!”
“No!” I snapped. Then I stood up. “Look, have you ever gotten close enough to even see what it’s made of?”
“Of course not!” she shot back. “There’s no way to know why it didn’t finish dissolving, or what it would do if something organic came in contact with it!”
I frowned. “But it’s been out here a while, hasn’t it? So, it gets rained on and stuff? And look,” I said, pointing at the base of the thing. “The grass around it is organic. It’s touching the cube, and nothing’s exploding. If it was going to do something sinister, wouldn’t animals stay away?” I tapped a finger on the notebook she held, where a caribou was coming to life under her pencil. Her model stood about ten feet away from the cube, quietly grazing.
She glared at me, and for the first time that afternoon was without a quick reply.
“Why are you afraid of it?” I asked her.
“Because, it’s…” she floundered. “It’s obvious that it’s not supposed to be here.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone else about it?”
“I told you,” she said, “nobody comes out here but me. If I told somebody else, they could get hurt.”
“But what if it’s got advanced technology in it that could, like, cure cancer? You could be holding back the entire world!”
She jumped up and looked me in the eye. “Or I could be protecting it!”
“Only one way to find out,” I told her, and then I marched stubbornly toward it.
“No, don’t!” she called, obviously worried but just as obviously unwilling to get any closer to the cube.
Her cry didn’t stop me, but it did spook the caribou, who shot a frightened look at us and then loped away.
I kept going until it was near enough to touch. I had expected that the cube would be a bit more mysterious up close. It should have been putting off heat, or pulling heat in. It should have been humming quietly, the sound getting louder as I approached. At the very least, the lines that were etched across it like a vein in a gold mine should have been shifting around, fading or growing brighter depending on the phase of the moon, or where you looked at it, or if it was a Tuesday.
But it wasn’t doing any of that.
And maybe the fact that it wasn’t overtly creepy, or something that would easily have fit into an episode of Star Trek was what made me stop, and to think for the first time that she might be right.
I turned to look back at her and saw that she had ventured a little closer than the rocks where we sat, but not much.
“Please,” she pleaded. “What if something bad happens?”
“What if nothing happens at all?” I called back. “You’re going to feel stupid when I’m standing here touching it and it’s just a rock, and all you’ve been doing is drawing pictures and being afraid for no reason.” I reached out a hand.
She shook her head violently. “Don’t!”
Slowly, I felt my fingers brush the side of the cube.