Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh: Part Four

Part One | Part Two| Part Three|

Once more at the start of the cave and Crystal had to inhale as she attached her lantern. This time she kept it on her hip. Even if she tripped again, she wouldn’t lose the lantern unless it broke.

This time she hoped she would be able to avoid falling on anything, though she wasn’t entirely certain of the path after a point. 

Silence permeated the cave as she entered. Crystal turned her head slightly back and forth, uncertain of what to expect. There appeared no one—not even someone to guide her.

At last she reached the area where her light only illuminated the slow forming stone columns around her and she had to inhale, looking around. She was half certain that they would have continued straight from here, but she couldn’t be certain. 

Asking for aid here would have too high a price. That much she was confident in. 

A soft sound made her turn. “I hear you,” she called out. 

It wasn’t Lucinda this time, but Blake. His expression seemed almost half-asleep as he tilted his head at her.

“You return,” he said.

“One item, one brother. That is the agreement,” Crystal said and he spread his hands before he moved ahead slightly.

“That is the agreement you have with my mother. You and I have arrived at no agreements.” 

He continued ahead, though he paused and glanced back at her, almost as if curious what she would do. She hesitated a moment before she followed him. He could easily lead her astray down here, leaving both her and her brothers to suffer. 

And yet, he didn’t, going instead through rooms she half recognized. The phosphorescent rocks showed her a little more of the path, and she remembered Lucinda’s words not to step on the light. Through the cave with metallic walls and then at last into the cavern containing Lucinda’s throne. 

The blood fae herself smiled a little as Crystal approached. “Thank you, Blake.” 

“It was my pleasure, Mother.” 

Lucinda smiled. “Crystal,” she greeted.

“Lucinda.” 

“I trust the task wasn’t too difficult?” 

“It posed little difficulty,” she replied. “I have the apple.” 

“Then I will release your brother,” Lucinda said.

“I will not allow you to hold the apple until my brother is released,” Crystal said.

Lucinda was silent a moment before she sighed and made a faint motion.

Mica simply dropped to the floor. The force of his body falling onto the flooring made a distinct thump that bounced off the stone walls. Crystal gasped and darted to him. She slid to her knees. 

“One brother, one item,” Lucinda said before Crystal could touch him. She looked up into the face of the blood fae. Lucinda’s movements hadn’t made a sound, but she stood there, one brow quirked up and a hand out. 

 Reluctant, Crystal rose again to slide the apple from the protective pouch she’d carried it in. She set it carefully in Lucinda’s palm, watching as a smile replaced the expectant countenance.

The feel of Lucinda’s nails brushing over her skin made her shiver and Lucinda cooed. Crystal pulled back and dropped to her knees again, examining Mica. 

He was breathing and his pulse beat steady under her fingers. He was usually a light sleeper and she shook him. “Mica. Mica. Wake up.” 

“He’ll wake once the sunlight touches his face,” Lucinda said calmly. 

Crystal turned to glower at Lucinda, one hand clenched around Mica’s tunic. She wanted to swear but didn’t dare risk Lucinda’s temper. Lucinda however, only smirked. Whether it was amusement or malevolence, her dark eyes glowed in the amber light of the lantern. 

“You’ve succeeded in the first task. One of your brothers has been released. Are you ready for the second?” 

A slow breath in helped steady her irritation even as it hissed between her teeth. “I am,” she said.

“You are to retrieve a vial of hangman’s dew. Once you bring it to me, I will release your next brother.” 

“Hangman’s dew,” Crystal murmured.

“Yes,” Lucinda said. “One vial, one brother.” 

One apple, one vial. Crystal nodded.

“One vial of hangman’s dew for the release of one brother.” 

Lucinda beamed while Crystal struggled to get Mica’s weight off the floor.

Blake was there in an instant. “It would be easier for me to carry him. If you have some offering to make, I am willing to exchange my aid,” he said and Crystal couldn’t quite keep her expression calm and even as she looked at him.

It was but the price concerned her.  “All I offer are trinkets.” 

He smiled and reached out, touching the ribbon she’d wound through her hair. “Acceptable. This perhaps?” 

“The ribbon isn’t mine to give,” she said. “I have three buttons and a penny if you wish.” 

He smiled again. “Three buttons and a penny,” he said. “And I will carry your brother to the entrance of the cave.” 

She didn’t like it in the slightest, but she nodded and slid all three buttons out of the coin pouch on her belt, along with the penny. As soon as Blake took them, he smiled again and bent, lifting Mica easily. 

She let Blake lead the way, back out to the entrance. As they approached however, Blake flinched a little. “The sun is up,” he said. 

“I can manage him from here,” Crystal said, and looped one arm around Mica’s waist as Blake set his feet down. 

As soon as Crystal had gotten a few steps away from Blake, he stepped back into the shadows and Crystal had to inhale a little as she hauled her brother forward. Mica was almost ten years older than her, and he’d spent his life building frames and plowing fields. His bulk weighed on her as she hauled him forward. 

Slowly, as she pulled him farther into the light and out of the shadows, he stirred. Even while she panted, he shifted, the little movements of his feet forcing her to put him down in the swath of sun illuminating the cave. 

She knelt over him, one hand on his shoulder. “Mica?” 

“Crystal?” he murmured. “Crystal!” 

“Relax,” she said and stood up, holding a hand towards him. “You’re safe now.” 

Mica looked around. “This…was I dreaming?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “Lucinda wanted something in exchange for your freedom.” 

Mica’s face paled. “She came to the farm, asked after your blessing.”

“I already know,” Crystal said. “She needs some items collected. One item, one brother freed. That’s the deal.” 

“That’s it? She couldn’t ask us?” 

“An apple from the restless tree and a vial of hangman’s dew,” Crystal said quietly. “I don’t know if it’s the items themselves she needs, or the latent magic in them. You can’t carry the magic. I can.” 

Mica studied her before he got to his feet. “I feel like I’ve been asleep,” he said.

“You have been. I’ll take you to Juniper and then I need to go.” 

“Who else do you have to rescue?” Mica asked and Crystal bowed her head. “I’m either the first or the last.” 

“The first. You’re the oldest, “she said. 

“Then the next one will be Coal. What does she want in exchange for him?” 

“A vial of hangman’s dew.” 

“Where are you going to get that?” 

“If I get there by morning, I’ll have a selection of four trees,” Crystal said. 

“Then I’m coming with you.” 

“You should be going home, or at least talking to Juniper,” Crystal said. 

“That’s not an option,” Mica replied and put a hand to her shoulder. “They’re my siblings too.” 

Crystal was silent a moment. “Fine,” she said. “But follow my instructions.” 


Seventh is a serial story updated every Friday. You can check out my books or short stories, or you can follow the blog for future updates!

Posted in character

Using Negative Traits for Arcs

Like real people, characters should have flaws. After all, Nobody is perfect and your characters need to be Somebody. Hence, they need to have flaws and negative traits to help balance out their strengths. Having a negative trait in their character also helps provide conflict and gives you as the writer a place to build their arc.

Take a look at your character’s negative flaws and ask questions. Are they quick-tempered? Stingy? Vain? Perhaps they have low self-esteem or they care too much about what others think. Once you know where their shortcomings are, ask yourself how it impacts their ability to resolve the main conflict. Does an inability to listen to others cause a miscommunication? Does their timidity cause them to keep quiet when they have a perfect solution?

Their flaws should impact them in some way.  Use those negative traits as an obstacle to getting what they want. This forces your character into needing to make a change and gives them a motivation for their character arc.

As the arc progresses, ramp up the problems caused by that negative trait. As the results become worse and worse, your character is forced to try a new tactic to get what they want. This reinforces the idea that their negative trait needs to change.

Not every character arc will end with a complete turn around. Change is hard to do, especially when it’s something like a bad habit or a negative trait. Rather than forcing your character through a full reimagining by the end of the story, let that negative trait remain—but tone it back. Show they can still be just as stubborn, stingy or selfish as they were, but that their instances of doing so are lessened by the impact of their past actions.  

Posted in serial, Seventh, Stories

Seventh: Part Three

Part One | Part Two

“You can’t be serious.” 

Juniper spun from where she’d been digging in her cabinet for whatever it was she needed. As always her workspace had half a dozen odd implements—ribbons, twigs from giving branches, a few leaves soaking in cold water. 

“I am,” Crystal said. “That was the agreement.” 

“You’re a bigger fool than I thought,” Juniper said. “How are you going to get an apple from that tree?” 

“I have an idea,” Crystal said. “But please, Juniper. Do you have a charm for good luck or not?” 

For a moment she thought Juniper might protest again. Most others described her as timid and quiet. Part of that came from the wide, doe-like eyes the fact she didn’t tend to ask many questions. 

Crystal knew her better than that. She’d learned that the pout on Juniper’s lips wasn’t one of fear, but of annoyance. Juniper didn’t ask questions as a general rule. 

Unless she knew something was a bad idea.

A sigh escaped and Juniper’s shoulders dropped. “I do,” she said. “But they’re finicky. You’re lucky it’s not autumn, you know.” 

 “I’d be happier if it was. There would be more apples to pluck.”

“You’re a damned fool,” Juniper said and came around her counter to put her arms around Crystal. “What are you going to do to get out of it?” 

“I’m not sure,” Crystal answered as she put her head against Juniper’s shoulder. “I really truly don’t know.”

A sigh escaped. “Listen,” Juniper said and pulled back just enough to reach up and lift Crystal’s chin. “There’s guaranteed to be at least one spirit there. Be careful and polite.” 

“Always,” Crystal said.

“As soon as you have that apple, go straight back to Lucinda,” Juniper advised. “Carry it in a cloth bag but don’t let it leave your hands until your brother’s been released from the stone.”

“I will,” Crystal said and Juniper sighed.

“And please. Come back home.” 

“For your smile, I will.” 

That got at least a tiny smile on Juniper’s face, and Juniper leaned forward slightly to kiss Crystal’s cheek. “And a kiss for extra luck,” she said and then turned, opening the cabinet door and finding a yarn-wrapped trinket. 

“Your luck charm?” Crystal asked and Juniper smiled a little.  

“A four-leaf clover in rabbit-fur yarn,” she said and slid it over Crystal’s wrist, tying it in securely. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“Waiting until I am isn’t an option,” Crystal answered and Juniper sighed before she took a step back and smoothed a hand down her apron.

“Have care with every word and every step.” 

They headed outside. Juniper’s horse stood by the porch, saddlebags loaded with the supplies Crystal would need for a six day journey. Crystal’s pack sat at the back and she hesitated a moment before she swung on. This part she was used to. Sometimes the things she needed to collect were days away and weeks of travel. 

“I’ll come home,” Crystal promised.

“I’ll be waiting for you,” Juniper said. 

With that, Crystal smiled and turned the horse, heading off. She knew where she was going, but she saw a few windows close as she passed. 

Everyone had heard she guessed. A blood fae was hiding in their mountain, in the old mining cave they didn’t tread in for fear of collapse and injury. Tapped out of resources, the mine was a perfect place for a fae.

A blood fae who had set her sights on something. 

Crystal had only told them she needed six items, one for each brother. She hadn’t told them why it had to be her, but she knew they were whispering about it the way they always did. The Cleary family had always been talented. Her mother had been an amazing cook, always able to whip up something to suit any taste. Her grandmother’s weaving and needlework had survived two generations of laborers, including three of her sons becoming miners. 

They might not know Crystal had a fairy’s blessing, but they knew when it came to magic, it was the Cleary family that would handle it. 

Travel was easy for her. She knew the map well, and had passed the valley she needed before. The mountains around the area ranged in sizes. Her town was at the base of a medium sized mountain, extending down into the valley. Her brothers’ farm sat at one end, and Juniper’s cottage sat in the middle of the town, amidst laundresses and dressmakers.  

The mountains however, had several valleys, one of which had been formed into a narrow pass. That pass could become blocked over with ice on one end in the spring when the snowmelt began to slide off the mountains. Summers tended to flood it.

A solitary tree grew in the valley between the mountains. Wind howled around it, branches thrown back and forth in erratic patterns by the unseen forces of air.

Looking at it from one end of the valley, Crystal studied the tree. They called it the restless tree because that’s what it was. A single tree, in the middle of a valley that never ceased to move.

A single apple tree. 

How it had managed to survive when even as a sapling it had been buffeted by the winds and its branches and boughs had been yanked on by gales, Crystal didn’t know. Either it had paid a high price to continue growing and thriving there, or it was simply a miracle.

Either way, continuously buffeted by winds, getting close enough to pluck an apple from the branches wouldn’t be easy and Crystal knew it. Though plenty of apples had been thrown off the branches, they were bruised or split open by the force with which they hit the ground.

Crystal didn’t trust Lucinda not to take the tiniest reason to withhold her brother. 

Crystal reached up, holding her hand out and letting the wind pass over it. Fairy-blessed, her mother had told her. The seventh child born a daughter three times over. The fairies had of course been paying attention.

Which was how Crystal knew that no matter what she grabbed, it would help her in some way. Things came to her hands easily. Be that a spare coin she needed for the market, or the right ingredient for a medicine or potion. 

Now however, she only held a hand out, letting the air brush through it. It pulled and yanked on her and she nodded. “Shelter,” she decided at last and moved.

She got as close to the tree as she could. She could see some of the apples still hanging from its branches and she bent, setting a bowl on the ground and filling it with milk. “an offering for you to stop blowing so harshly,” she said. 

The wind took a moment before the bowl spun, and it died down a little. At the least, it no longer threw the stray locks of her hair into her face and bit at her cheeks. 

The tree’s swaying reduced a little, perhaps for the first time in its life. Crystal moved a little ways away, reaching up and finding a particularly curly lock of her hair. Her little knife cut the lock off easily and a twist allowed her to knot the hairs together.

“An offering for you to calm the wind,” she called, and held the hair out on her palm. 

The wind took it, catching the hair up greedily and then vanishing all together. As she’d thought, there was a spirit in the wind. 

There always was. 

With the wind stilled however, it gave her what she needed and Crystal inhaled as she approached the tree, her little knife still out. 

It would be easy enough to pluck an apple from the tree, to say that giving it a moment of rest from the wind was her payment for doing so.

Angering or cheating spirits was never a good idea however and she smiled a little as she pulled a small bottle from her bag, filled with clear water.

“Water from my well, in exchange for one apple,” she said, and uncorked the bottle. 

The water splashed on the roots, and a branch creaked overhead. Crystal looked up, spotting the perfect apple there. It gleamed still, alone on its branch. She smiled and reached up, twisting it so it came off gently in her hand.

“My thanks,” she said and stepped away. 

The branches creaked again, but with the wind picking back up, it was hard to say what was the wind and what had been the tree’s response. It didn’t matter, Crystal decided as she picked up the now-empty bowl of milk. She had the apple in her hands, and that was the only part that mattered.

She’d hitched the horse a little farther down the valley, where the wind wasn’t as bad. A little grass grew around the base of the rocks and she smiled as she patted the horse’s neck. “Home,” she said. “We have a brother to rescue.” 


Seventh is a serial story updated every Friday. If you’re enjoying it, consider following for more updates. You can also check out my books and short stories!