The Annual Look Back 2017 Edition

A lot of things happened this year.

I bought my first car, I started writing freelance and I made a couple of new friends.

But I’m not the kind of person who looks back at old photos to immerse myself in nostalgia. I look back at changes, interested only in what I learned from them. If we don’t learn anything, how can we call any of it progress?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that planning for the future is damn near impossible and that ultimately it’s wholly unnecessary.

You can do a lot of things for your future self. You can start saving, continue learning, face your fears– everything you’ll read in a self-help book– but none of that will ever fully prepare you for the future. There’s always something.

That might sound ominous and it might make you think that tomorrow is something to be afraid of, but it really isn’t. I planned for a different future at the beginning of this year, one I expected to be a lot harsher, but things were great.

Because of my freelance work, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I could really build a career as a writer and I fell in love with that craft again. However, I also found that focusing completely on it wasn’t the way to go. At least, not right now, despite what others might have said. I decided I’d become a teacher instead, while I build my career as a writer.

The most important thing for me is to make enough to support a family. A family of my own has always been the thing I want most. Nothing else seems as meaningful to me, but I know I’m far from ready, which is something I wouldn’t have readily admitted to before. I’ve changed a lot.

I was able to reconnect with my oldest friend this year, when I visited Hong Kong for the first time in almost four years.

She had changed, but I was glad to see that the qualities I loved about her were still there and still strong. She’s still the same generous, good-hearted woman I had always known. I said as much to her when we sat down for lunch one afternoon. I told her how there was a time years ago, when I thought the city and that life of struggle would turn her into someone just as cynical and worn as me. But I was incredibly wrong and incredibly glad to be. Perhaps the truth was, I was just never strong enough to face the realities of my situation and seeing her maintain such a positive outlook inspired me to continue in my attempt to become more than what I am.

As much as I loved seeing how she’d grown, I was astonished to see the changes in myself more clearly.

My first night there was spent with her friend from the US and with her roommate. I would have dreaded meeting new people a couple of years ago but when I met them, I wasn’t afraid or in any way anxious. In fact, I was excited to meet them and try to get to know them.

To my surprise, I had much longer than just a night to do that. The day after, while almost everyone present was dealing with a massive hangover, we visited Macau. I’d never been there before, so that trip left quite the impression on me.

We had fun exploring and trying our hand at a game or two in one of the casinos.

Macau is the epitome of decadence. Almost every kilometre of those three islands are covered in the coruscating, hollow extravagance of a fantasy straight from the mind of a poorer child, toying with the idea of limitless wealth. The casinos were each a city of their own, with the souls of the cultural capitals of the world conflated into a few palatial hallways, filled with perfume so thick as if desperately trying to mask something ugly beneath it.

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It’s a different city but not completely unlike Hong Kong, which is why it reminded me about why I didn’t stay for much longer. I spent just a weekend there because I knew that if I’d spent any more time there, I would have remembered why I hated it: the social injustices that go ignored on a daily basis, the focus on all things superficial, and the passive bitterness present in all cities–yet seem that much more intense in one as dense as Hong Kong.

I had just enough time to explore everywhere I used to go (and then some) so I could reminisce and look back to reconnect with something else I thought I’d lost. I didn’t need anything more from that place. The tranquility of the salty seaside and the adrenaline of a short-lived infatuation in Hong Kong’s thrilling nightlife was enough for me.

I was undeniable that this place was where I came from. A part of me felt rooted in it, but it wasn’t my home anymore.

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I didn’t plan for that trip. It was largely a “spur of the moment” type of thing. But I was much happier because of it. I didn’t try to conform when I came back to Sweden, but I didn’t try to stand out either. I just felt as though I could allow myself to be as I am. Only good has come of that so far.

I suppose in short, everything that happened this year put things in perspective and because of that, I was able to see how much or how little progress I had made with certain aspects of my life.

It wasn’t all great, but I’d be amazed if anyone actually had a flawless year. This year had its low points of course, but I’m glad for it. I grew from them. I learned how to fight through the lows and truly appreciate the highs. More than that.

Whenever someone used to talk about those warm fuzzy feelings you’re supposed to get when you make someone else smile, I never quite understood it. I suppose that says something about me but, I’m not really interested in exploring that. Partly because that’s an answer I already have, and partly because that’s not who I am right now.

To show you what I mean, I’ll have to back up a bit to how exactly my way of thinking changed.

It’s not easy grounding yourself in the present. It means forgiving who you were and allaying all fear of who you might become. You have to embrace the fact that none of that really matters right at this very moment.

I came to that realisation at the end of 2016 and I felt myself heading into nihilism. The notion that nothing mattered made me feel free, but it came from a dark place so it poisoned my view instead of clearing it.

It’s true that nothing matters. Everything ends. That sounds grim and nihilistic, but it doesn’t have to be. When you know that nothing matters, life becomes a blank slate on which you’re free to build whatever you want. The only things that mean anything are the things you choose to give meaning to.

That’s what I learned from listening to Alan Watts.

Months ago, I found old recordings of his lectures– online, not in a dusty, forgotten library, which I know sounds way more exciting– and I couldn’t get enough of them. He spent his whole life studying religious and spiritual paths and it showed in his eloquence and his profound understanding of it all–the mark of a great philosopher.

His lectures allowed me to understand taoist philosophy in ways I never thought I could. Suddenly all the ideas and abstract concepts I once touched on when contemplating or just daydreaming so many years ago, had a place. Pieces of a puzzle I had never fully realised I was trying to piece together. I could go on and on about their philosophy and how everyone who pursues that sort of spiritual balance or happiness is bound to a sort of cyclical path.

No, I didn’t find enlightenment. I don’t need or want to. What I’m trying to say, by admittedly being verbose with dramatic metaphors, is that I found my own way to put all my inner conflicts and anxiety to rest. I just have to focus on the now–because now is all there is.

If you don’t know who Alan Watts is, I recommend you search him up and listen to or read whatever you can find.

So I stopped worrying about a fluid, inconstant future and started seeing everything I had around me. I started trusting the good things that happened and stopped resting in the stillness of self-pity and anguish.

That doesn’t mean some of the anguish doesn’t still linger or that I’m unreasonably carefree and happy all of the time. It’s just easier for me to find my way back now.

It also means that I don’t have to worry about things working out as planned, because I’m bound to fail at some point. So are we all. All I need to do, I realise, is do my best to achieve my goals and adapt to whatever comes, trusting that it’ll lead me to a better place.

Being free from the negative things, I found myself feeling joy whenever I could brighten someone’s day, even a little. It was new to me but I realised that that was only because I’d never allowed myself to feel it before. There was all that muck blocking the way.

I used to feel surrounded by the same cynical, occasionally grotesque souls and it made my world feel that much darker. The world still feels like a crazy, decaying place a lot of the time, so I cherish the people who are genuinely good. It’s a rare thing, but there are those who seem to puncture the fallacy that there is no such thing as true altruism. I cherish those people and I do what I can, when I can, to make them smile and to keep this crushing world from darkening their spirit. I aim to do that a lot more.

How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?

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Work, Play and Return to HK

If you’ve been reading this blog (which I realise is rarely updated), you’ll know why I write. For those of you who don’t, let me briefly explain: I write because it’s what I love to do. I love pouring emotion and fantastical imagery out on to a page to make someone smile or cry or think.

Of course, as with any deep seated passion, life tends to get in the way of your pursuit. Sometimes we learn something from the hindrances that are inevitably thrown our way and other times, we conclude that surrender is the only way forward. After all, we have others to take care of, and bills to pay. Aside from the lucky ones, we’re usually forced to set aside the things we love and instead carry on with the things that are necessary.

I’m still holding on the that hope that one day I’ll be able to write and not have to worry about providing for others. It’s a dream I’ll keep pursuing, but one I know is incredibly difficult to realise.

I found a job some months ago where I could write and get paid a decent amount. So I updated my resume and couldn’t help but smile when I was finally able to put ‘writer’ on it. It was an awesome moment and it helped greatly in keeping me motivated and passionate.

But it hasn’t all been a merry stroll down the yellow brick road. I’ve been trying to balance my job with my studies and it’s been challenging to say the least, but I’m not willing to give up either one. To combat the stress, I made a last minute decision to fly back to Hong Kong for a few days and I do mean a few. I stayed for just a weekend.

The thing is, I thought I would hate it. I only went there to see my friends and just bask in nostalgia for a minute. Sweden has offered me a lot but ever since I came here, the world has not stopped spinning. In fact, I joke a lot with my sisters about how this small, quiet little town is like the world’s strangest time machine. Life keeps on rushing around me and yet the peaceful green forest and humble little brick houses keep me preoccupied in its tranquillity. It was the other way around in Hong Kong. In that beast of a bustling metropolis, there was never a dull moment and yet time flowed on so sluggishly. Maybe I’m just a lot older than I thought I was and more aware of the fact that I just don’t have as much time as I thought I did. When we’re thrown out into the real world, in a mad panic we all overwork ourselves and forget to enjoy the life around us. We achieve great things but can’t look back and appreciate it. That’s not what I want to do but I find myself heading in that direction anyway. So I needed that trip back to my hometown just so I could look back and take a breath. Yeah, I went to one of the most polluted cities in the world so I could breathe and you know what? It felt great.

It was beautiful. Whenever anyone asked me what Hong Kong was like for me, I always told them about the great food, efficient transportation, and beautiful hiking trails but that ultimately it’s just a dense, uncomfortable place to be. When you grow up in that merciless economy, it’s easy to forget and appreciate the truly great things about your home that shaped you. I’ve been seriously downplaying how great the city can be when you’re there without worry. When I landed in Hong Kong after 4 years away, I could feel my heart welling up with joy, which has only happened to me one other time. Even though the sky was bleak and grey, the people were tired and grumpy (to be fair, we’d just stepped off of a 7 hour flight from Zurich), but I was happy and excited to see this place.

I could write forever about that brief time I spent in Hong Kong, but I won’t. At least not yet. Partly because I don’t have the time and partly because I want to enjoy the residual joy by myself for a little bit longer.

I will say that I learned a lot (like the fact that I need a better camera) and that I needed that trip more than I realised. I feel reinvigorated and more determined to build myself up and keep moving forward. I think it’s a good thing that I stayed so far from that place and kept my distance. I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of this trip if I hadn’t…or been able to appreciate the seafood (you have to try the seafood!)

I pretty much wrote this just to pour my thoughts out but I guess if we had to pin some sort of moral to this short story, it’d be this: sometimes you just need to take a long step back before you can truly appreciate what you had, and use it to make a giant leap forward.

I’m looking forward to going back soon.

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After a little more than a year, Path of Destruction is ready for release. The eBook currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com through this link here, with a softcover edition well on its way, slated for release on the 14th of July 2016.

The story follows Robert, a knight of the Templar Order, and his struggle to break free of the dark chains that bind him to the battlefields of the Holy Land. Close to death, he is discovered by three vampires: Heva, Abbas, and Malak, the latter of which chooses to save his life, much to her friends’ dismay.

Path of Destruction is about redemption, acceptance, and loss. It’s a war story, a horror story, and a love story all in one. One of the larger reasons I had for writing it however, was to give my readers more of a background into the series I’ve been working on– A Goblet of Altruism. The characters that have thus far been introduced in The Masks of Monsters and Path of Destruction will continue to play a role in my full-length novel series.

Front Cover

Courtesy of Melanie Liu

The last year and a half has been yet another unexpectedly enlightening journey. I thought that after my first novella, I’d have gotten used to all the emotional and physical processes that come with creating and breathing life into characters, but I was wrong.

I began writing this soon after I published The Masks of Monsters, because although it had brushed upon the two opposing forces of my upcoming series, I felt that there wasn’t enough there to give you a sufficiently clear image of what my series would be about. Not that I intend on giving anything about them away, I want the characters to have that balance between being well defined, and just vague enough that they can still intrigue you and surprise you. I’m not interested in two-dimensional heroes and villains. Nobody is perfect in real life and I expect you probably don’t read books to read about perfect people.

The characters were partly inspired by two-dimensional characters. I created the character of Robert after hearing someone talking about knights in shining armour. When people think about knights, more often than not the image that comes to mind is that of a stoic man of honour, dressed in steel plating, riding atop a beautiful stallion. Let’s be realistic. European knights did once have a code, the chivalric code, which addressed conduct in battle as well as respect for ladies (I say ladies as in noblewomen, not “the ladies”, if that makes sense). What people don’t realise however is that what we know to be the chivalric code, while once based on reality, is largely a work of fiction attributed to the legend of King Arthur and those who helped develop and spread that myth, later aided by the spread of Christianity and the dominance of the Church. The Templar Order was, to my knowledge, the closest order of knights to those we often imagine, and even then, they were far from pure. The majority of them were humble, pious, honourable, and brave. That is why I chose to write about Robert, the Templar knight. I wanted to present to you, a knight that you definitely will not like in the beginning, and you may not even completely like him in the end, and that’s why he was such a perfect character to help portray one’s path to redemption. I hope I’ve succeeded in showing you that within the pages of my novella.

The Second Release

A Review (Not a Review)

When I wrote my first complete novel manuscript, I was about 15 years old. I would sometimes ruminate on getting it published and wonder if it would ever take me to fame. It was an entertaining thought but that notion wasn’t what made me write.

In the beginning, I wrote for no one in particular. I would write for the same reason I would read: to learn and explore entire worlds and people, and occasionally myself. I loved building a character and leading them to destruction or happiness. I realise that that may sound as though I wrote simply because I lusted for some sort of power. That is not the case.

Despite all that time, wondering what it would be like if I every published my work, for some reason, it never occurred to me that someone might actually enjoy reading my work. It seemed so odd to me that I could create a world and someone other than me would find it fascinating or at all compelling.

I’ve spent the last year trying to better market my first novella and throughout the past few months, I’ve received a few reviews. Yes, most were solicited but that’s beside the point. I never expected that they would actually be good.

So I’d like to thank these people for taking the time to read my novella and allowing me to prove to myself that I can actually write. I’ll always come back to these whenever the depression kicks in and I need something to steer my train of thought (as it violently hurtles through a dark tunnel) to a more positive direction.

There was Stormi at Boundless Book Reviews (http://goo.gl/3AZUNM). I truly appreciated the honest review and the three stars given to my novella.

Then there was Trang at Bookidote (https://goo.gl/G8aO8f) who published her four star review just in time for Halloween! Reading her review was a phenomenal experience, in part because one can easily see how much time and care she (and Lashaan) puts into each review.

I must mention Andy at Taliesin Meets the Vampires (http://goo.gl/tIRiEK) who offered a thorough critique of the novella before giving it four stars. I am more than grateful for anything that allows me to improve my work.

Connie at Poet’s Eyes (http://goo.gl/W9mtqR) offered four stars and beautifully analysed the novella, writing about it with such passion. I cannot put into words, how glad her review made me. I can only hope that my words evoke passion in more of my readers.

Finally, there’s Aly at Riley Amos Westbrook (https://goo.gl/t8N91d) who most recently gave the novella four stars and expressed quite succinctly how much enjoyment came from reading it.

The reason I’ve chosen to thank these people here and now is because throughout 2015, I was slowly losing my passion for writing, drawn away from it by the imminent duties we all bear in our daily lives. Reading these reviews has reinvigorated me and aided me in finishing my second novella.

2016 has arrived and I am currently preparing to release it. Path of Destruction. My second novella, introducing another aspect of the world I’m building in my upcoming series. The series that I began four years ago and can now focus on completely. I can only hope that the reviews will keep being this positive. I still expect abysmal ones. But I have enough now to provide me with confidence that will last.

Thank you, everyone and thank you to all my other readers. You are each a treasure.

The Old World

The chilling winds of Autumn have come and the fiery red and gold leaves litter the land. Like a fire in these cold months beneath the midnight stars, my ardour for writing was in dire need of stoking. I found that stoke in Sweden’s two biggest cities.

I often find myself lost in the utter beauty of Europe and the old world that lies beneath the face of an ever-expanding cultural unification that the internet and modern transportation has catalysed. History is often as fascinating as these miracles of science.

I travelled to Stockholm a few months ago, for the first time. I was eager to see it and spent a two hour train ride listing out everything I wanted to see. First on my list, Fotografiska Museet (The Photographic Museum), a recommendation from my boss who was born in Stockholm. I was excited because at the time it was holding Nick Brandt’s completed photographic trilogy ‘On This Earth, A Shadow Falls, Across the Ravaged Land’.

For those of you who don’t know, Nick Brandt is an English wildlife photographer who shoots exclusively in Africa. He has spent 20 years developing his trilogy to showcase the majesty, the fall and the destruction of nature. I don’t often get the chance to visit museums or artistic showcases and I’ll forever be glad to have seen this one. As I studied the black and white photos on the wall, I was drawn into a world full of colour and the magnificence of life in its order and chaos. Beginning as a timeless, beautiful gallery, the trilogy moved me through a deteriorating landscape where life itself began to crumble with it. Finally, as humans entered the shots, I saw the end of life in their hands, the bones of the wondrous world I had seen before, hoisted up like so many trophies.

As I left that museum, stepping into the sunlight once more, I sat down at a nearby cafe before a view of the harbour and with a cup of coffee in my hand, contemplated what I had just seen: a reflection of humanity and its regrets.

The Bridge to Gamla Stan

The Bridge to Gamla Stan

I ventured throughout the city, searching for everything it had to offer. Like most towns and cities in Sweden, Stockholm wears its history proudly and nowhere as clearly as in Gamla Stan (Old Town). Many of the streets were narrow, cobbled and uneven and every structure was colourful and archaic. As I passed an empty well beneath a tree brimming with emerald life, I truly felt as though I stepped into the past and everyone else had wandered in with me. I could just imagine what it had been like living in a place like that, shining with a warm glow in the day only to steal all sense of pleasantness for the lonely wanderer away at night.

This glimpse into the past was everything I’d hoped it would be. I even stopped by a humble looking cafe with a pile of oranges stacked against the window beneath a sign that read “freshly squeezed oranges”. As I neared the Iron Square, I even saw a carriage being pulled along by two beautiful horses. I had seen similar tours in London but, it seemed out of place amidst the architecture and the colourful lights around them.

It was an riveting experience. But I had to leave at some point. As I returned to the quiet countryside in which I resided, I longed to be away from it again. So months later, I decided to visit Gothenburg.

I’d travelled to Gothenburg once before but it was more for business than pleasure. This time I would gorge myself upon everything that incredible city had to offer. The colourful culture and vibrant atmosphere was mine to explore.

But I’ll write more of that later.

Life Flows in Decadent Nights

I was raised in Hong Kong. I suffered, I grew, I lived in Hong Kong.

The city had always been a magnificent symphony of cultural elements and one could easily see it if they only took a moment to look around. At it’s heart, the West melded with the East in what I can only describe as the vivacious lovemaking of two worlds. It was a city of artists, embracing a new age of philosophical realisation and earthly detachment. It was a city of businessmen, conducting the course of commerce and championing the ever accelerating momentum of development. It was a city that clung to its past with one hand while it climbed a ladder to a better future with the other. All of it in it’s brilliance, contained and surrounded by a vast and murky ocean.

But the thing I grew to love the most about Hong Kong was the crowd and the way that it flowed. There were people from all walks of life wading through that endless and colourful sea of faces, either to carry on with their taxing routines or to reach a new and exciting point in their adventure. In the day, they were the tourists with their families, the scholars in their colourless uniforms, the men and women of business with their fine suits and polished faces and the old folks who walked with the weight of a lifetime on their shoulders. But when the sun fell behind the forest of monstrous skyscrapers and sank behind a distant horizon, every bestial instinct and carnal desire would bubble up from the depths of every youthful heart. Men and women abandoned the costumes they wore and slipped into new skins. Leather jackets, tight jeans, dress shirts, loose ties, summer dresses and tank tops.LKF

Nightclubs and bars would fill with those desperate to forget the aches and pains that life so often tries to cripple us with. As the bass pounded every muscle in their bodies and the alcohol coursed through their veins, all their worries and all their heartache drowned in the night. I grew to love it all. In the boisterousness and guilty pleasures, you could see people without the pretentiousness or inhibition or see the world they each helped to construct, become something else entirely.

Every beautiful woman became a dancing flame as the blue, red and green lights waved across their shapely bodies while every man became a thoughtless beast lusting for their warmth. It was primal. But there was always laughter and you could easily see how every heart could feel free.Club Lights

I would usually begin a night out with a tall hookah pipe and a glass full of amber whiskey on the rocks, surrounded by both strangers and friends. Ask anyone and they would say that I was a quiet one. I was always far more interested in watching them, listening to them and discovering new threads of humanity that I had never seen before, emerging with every breath of smoke. It was almost as intoxicating as the vices I had already consumed. But those observations would slowly become a blur as the night went on, as we left the quietude of our shisha bar and followed the streets toward the distant carefree screams and booming music. That’s when the night began.

Dimly lit clubs with flashing lights, songs both new and old and each one mixed and re-edited to get the heart racing. Into a different crowd we dove, dancing in cramped spaces and playing our drinking games until our minds surrendered our bodies to our ids and our egos. You could feel powerful, happy and confident, never-mind that this delusion would quickly fade in the morning. The only moments that mattered were those in the darkness, caught between men and women who shared the same delirium. In those moments, I fell in love with the night.

Why are you reading this, right now? What does a drunken night have to do with my work?

My novellas, The Masks of Monsters and Path of Destruction (soon to be released), are about creatures of the night, finding their place in the world, eternally damned to thirsting for blood.

It’s easy to imagine such a creature venturing into nights like the ones I enjoyed and feeling reconnected with what they once were, another lost soul in the crowd. For in those nights, in the absence of sobriety, no one can call themselves sane. I was not a person, I was a ghost under a spell, a soul set free and I was lost.

Hindsight

The history of man overflows with love and blood.

How many people have perished in defence of the people they loved, simply because man once thought that there was a difference between a mother or father in the desert and a mother or father in the highlands?

I adore history. I adore the ancient world and all its tragedies or tales of poetic justice. For example, the death of Attila the Hun, once called the Scourge of God. Here was a conqueror who almost crippled the Western Roman Empire and filled the Danube river for years with the massacred populace of Naissus. The land upon which he tread was overflowing with blood and flowing blood is what eventually killed him. In his tent, it’s said, he died from internal haemorrhaging. Stories like that, inspire me.

Writing The Masks of Monsters was thrilling, partly because I had never published anything before and I was on a long path of discovery and adventure. I explored two different countries, both of which inspired me in a variety of ways and I learned a lot about the world. I visited a few historical landmarks in these countries and tried my best to imagine what life might have been like so many centuries ago, in a time when people weren’t so connected and prejudice was rampant. What lay within the hearts of those who hauled stone and wood into place to construct each sumptuous castle? What hopes were held in the hearts of those noblemen or beggars who walked the cobbled streets.

As amazing as books, websites or any source of information can be in offering precious knowledge, some things in this world are too ineffable. The most vivid descriptions could never fully prepare you for the subtle trembling in someone’s voice when they first declare their love for you, just as the most intensely evocative photos could never prepare you for the sight of someone’s tears as they weep in indescribable agony, from loss or surrender. So I had to go to these places and see things for myself so I could at least get close to explaining it.

And now, as I progress with my new novella, Path of Destruction, I find myself in an ongoing inner battle.

For those of you who do not already know, Path of Destruction is set during the end of the Third Crusade and it begins with a crusader knight who slaughters dozens of innocent civilians on the orders of King Richard in the Massacre at Ayyadieh. Surely anyone, soldier or not, who reaps that much innocent blood, should be condemned to suffering and death for they would be little more than monsters. But, what about the man behind the monster? What about the righteousness they held in their hearts when they travelled to fight for faith and freedom? Does it offer them a glimmer of hope for redemption?

That’s what I want to explore in this new novella.

On my journey so far in writing it, I’ve been drawn into a deep philosophical discussion with others and myself. How many people can truly claim that they are not haunted by something they deeply regret in one way or another? I admit, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and hurt people I never meant to hurt. As have most people. In this way, I can say that this journey has been more intimate and intense. Something I hope readers will see and with any luck, the story of this knight and his compatriots will help those trapped in regret to find a small measure of peace. That’s why I enjoy writing stories set in different periods in history. It allows things to be that much more raw. Faith held much more power and the wants and wishes of the people dictated the fate of so many and yet, they were disconnected and sought out differences in each other where none truly existed mostly to defend that which they held dear.

A look back at how things were can always help us in understanding how things are. This tale I’m weaving, this prelude to an epic saga I’ve planned, is about fantastical creatures, but it’s also about exploring and understanding the soul beneath the flesh and I believe that historical settings can help in providing insight into just that.