Here’s my Blog Battle entry for this week, in the genre of fantasy, with the theme word of “selfie.”
I especially enjoyed writing something placed in my own fantasy setting from my novel Diffraction.
Update: My Life’s Work tied for the winning story this week. Thank you for the votes! The other winning story is World Views by Carl Bystrom. Check his piece out, along with all the other BlogBattlers participating each week.
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I hear their voices long before I see them. Footfalls echo in the halls. Laughter and commentary resounds off the palace’s high ceiling and polished marble floors.
“Look at this piece,” the man says. “Astounding… like what a falcon in flight must see from on high over the City’s towers.” He sounds refined, educated, a man of wealth and relative ease. Probably one of the City’s many so-called Ministers–men and women whose title implies service, something of which they are invariably found only on the receiving end.
“So real,” his companion replies, her soft voice hushed in awe. “I
feel almost faint, as if I might fall through and plummet to my
death.” Too chipper for my taste, too airy. I imagine she’s the upper
class equivalent of dancing girls in the Outskirts–there for show,
not insight. Her voice calls to mind a songbird displayed in a cage,
able to delight for short durations, but insufferable if permitted to
make constant noise.
“Still better to you than the portraits?”
“Much,” she says. “I don’t like the faces. The landscapes at least are
“Reminiscent of Serathil’s work,” the man says. “I know that’s what
they all say of Marwen’s paintings, but I had no idea the similarities
would be so striking.”
“Perhaps Marwen learned some of the same techniques… or more likely stole them.”
Or perhaps I fought for years to master my craft, you coddled child. What do you have that wasn’t given to you for no other reason than the fortune of your birth or the depth of your bosom?
And then I remember the Visitor years ago–his unhinged personality, inhuman predatory eyes, and alluring offer.
Why did I ever agree?
“Do you believe the stories about Serathil? How she captured such
lifelike scenes on canvas?”
The man shrugs. “The Abbey’s Devoted declare it was a gift of the
Divine, some blessing of Aulis that allowed Light to shine through her brush. But the Arcanists claim she used some form of Refocusing
technique, blending the elements into her portraits and landscapes.”
I’ve heard plenty of similar answers. I wish it were something so
simple, so pure.
This month, the Lord Mayor put my life’s work on display–a welcome opportunity for a better perspective. The Academy and Arcanists’ Hall each presented a few well-known examples, and Lord Peledor graciously brought forth several obscure pieces from his private collection. For the benefit of the commonfolk of Aulivar, they all said. But precious few commoners dare walk these halls. All I’ve seen so far are stiff-necked nobles and haughty elites of the upper class.
All of them say what I already know. Her work is so like Serathil, but not quite. Colorful, but less so. Vivid, almost as if the canvas
moves… but not as much as her masterpieces. Forever a step behind.
They don’t know the decades I spent trying to catch up. Days of
fasting, hours of fervent prayer, begging–pleading with the Divine to
grant me a touch of the same favor. I studied with failed Arcanists
and any Elemental willing to explain the secrets of magic. I spent
vast sums to learn what little they deigned to share–all for naught.
And would they even care? Does anyone recognize the effort that goes into an art form? Do they admire the discipline, the growth, the long transition from unskilled pieces no better than blotches of color to amateurish, misshapen portraits, then finally to lifelike scenery and recognizable faces? Perhaps I never reached Serathil’s perfection, but I’m confident no artist worked harder or did more than me with the raw ability granted her by the Divine.
One woman is born with an effortless gift that leads to inevitable
greatness and recognition. Another comes to the art without noticeable skill, but through constant effort and relentless discipline rises and improves to grasp at the master’s heels. Is that journey worth nothing? Must one surpass all others to be praised, or is it enough to improve beyond one’s present limitations?
I already know the answer to this.
Despite all my effort, my skill proved insufficient to garner public
awareness. But with the Visitor’s gift–the brush, its wood stained
and charred black like a log from the hearth.
For a moment, I feel my fists clench, the old fury building and
burning like bile in my chest. Every so often it strikes me that I can
still feel anything at all.
I try to avoid the eyes of the portraits around the room–the ones
that face me, at least. My best work, indeed, but also my worst. I
dare not dwell on it, but every time I behold one of those faces, the
rush of grief and guilt threatens to consume what’s left of my heart.
“Serathil’s methods are inscrutable,” the Visitor hissed so many years ago, his hand extending his dark gift. “Even to the best of your kind. But there are other ways to capture a… life-like, soul-full
In the gallery, I watch the man lead his companion across the hall to
my most famous piece–Dawn Kisses the Snowtips. The ivory walls of Aulivar gleam and the City’s towers cast long shadows that seem to move with the viewer. Sunlight flares off white peaks on the horizon, and clouds shift in hue from crimson to amber to gold based on where one stands.
The woman gives a satisfied sigh. “Marked improvement, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” her noble replies. “Consider the light shown here, the way it
sparkles off the windows of the City. Aulivar at the height of the
Alliance, centuries before this land fell from greatness.”
The woman looks around the gallery and shivers. “I like these faces
much less, though.”
“Why is that?”
“The resemblances are far better, yes. But… there’s a sadness when I look at them. They’re all wrong. See that despair in the eyes? Or
perhaps it’s anger. Most unnerving.”
“Not surprising, given the tragic stories behind some of these. That
one,” he says, pointing, “is the youngest daughter of an Aelwyner High Lord, painted when she received the sigil of Strength on Markday. She took ill not long after, and withered away before the year’s end.”
“And this fine elder gentlemen? Grand Sage of the Academy. He
succumbed to dementia in the months that followed. Probably well on his way when this was commissioned.”
He strides toward the one I hate most. “The wedding of House Hallaben and House Veray, nobles who lived in Alathon during the time of the Magistrate. The city fell soon after, and their entire bloodlines spilled on the streets in the overthrow.”
They all stare out from the celebratory scene, not with the joy and
mirth I remember from that day, but eyes full of hatred. Eyes that
look straight at me, knowing, accusing, condemning.
I took pieces of their souls. I dealt them fatal wounds, my
brushstroke more deadly than the rebel swords that eventually finished what my painting began.
The woman shudders and turns my way. “What about this one?”
“Marwen herself,” he says, examining me. “Her final portrait–an
unclaimed commission at that. Typical arrogance, devoting her finest
work to her own image. They found her dead in her studio, with the
paint still wet.”
“Do you think the tears are for what she never achieved, always
sitting in Serathil’s shadow?”
He strokes his chin. “Or perhaps for all she might have done, given
more time to capture the beauty of the subjects who came before her.”
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