Afterword

Keith Aksland:

So I’ve not really been much of a one for putting my voice out there in this project, but this has been an important enough year that I’d like to change that. Co-writing From Winter’s Ashes has been amazing for me, on a lot of levels.

The first few months were a serious trial for our abilities as writers, but honestly I think it was the fact that the both of us were working on it that helped us get over that hump. It’s a lot easier to handle a long-term task, after all, when you’ve got someone right next to you, rolling up their sleeves and putting in the effort too. Understand, From Winter’s Ashes as a story has been in development for close to five years, but it wasn’t until we made the decision to move to serial format, and finally slapped together a webpage and began posting to it, did what was for me a pie-in-the-sky dream (‘Hey, those characters and situations we banged out? Let’s make that an actual book!’) become a reality.

Most of my work has been on the editing side, and for all I’d gripe privately to Patrick about not feeling like I’d contributed enough, I do have to say: If you have people willing to do editing work for you, whether free or paid, appreciate the hell out of them. In editing FWA, I had to train my mind’s ear for language and cadence, and be able to convince Patrick that, yes, this passage does in fact sound better this way, or no you can’t get away with that many semicolons, put down that knife and delete those semicolons. At the end of the day, no matter what percentage of the word count belonged to me, I know that I made a real, tangible contribution to every chapter. What I learned from co-writing FWA, I will be damn sure to put to use for the second story I intend to write for this setting, which I hope to have a teaser for in the very near future.

On the writing side of things, I think that while Heather’s voice was always clearest in my head, I had way too much fun writing Corbin. The Offshore Accounts interstitials saw a lot of outright laughter between Patrick and I, over this smartass commando whose family is so powerful, there’s barely even any point keeping them in line as long as they’re not being actively disruptive. I’ll always prefer writing competent characters, but Corbin had that and the snappy dialogue that was just a treat to write, and I would love to one day try my hand at a proper thriller story just so I can revisit Corbin’s voice.

I have to say it is a hell of a heady drug, putting words down that people want to read, and it’s most definitely a drug I want more of. Everyone who read From Winter’s Ashes, every like and favorite and comment, every visit and vote, it’s all just amazingly gratifying, and I cannot thank you all enough for being willing to give us a respectable chunk of your time every week, let alone tell us how much you enjoyed what we’re doing. Thank you all, and I hope so see more of you in the stories to come.

— Keith Aksland

 

***

Patrick Rochefort:

I’d like to begin my part of the afterword by thanking our readers. You’re the ones we busted our asses for, worked long hours and sacrificed on friends, family, and fun for. So that these words would reach you on time and in the quality to which you have hopefully become accustomed.

From Winter’s Ashes was incubating for many years as a combination of short scenes, plotted ideas, and a lot of talk and dreaming over drinks. I’ve known for a long time that I could write well, and that with Keith I’d write even better. It’s been an honor and a pleasure working with him, and because of this project, we’ve both learned so many creatively jovial ways to tell each other off!

Some days were harder than others. The financial prospect of writing anything, in this modern era, is very slim, and genre fiction further narrows the market. To those who supported our work financially: Thank you. To the people who donated or supported us on Patreon, you’re helping to keep food on the table and roofs over the head for two families.

To all our readers: Thanks for your engagement and interest. To readers who wrote in to say that From Winter’s Ashes was their favorite story, or who just took the time to thank us for a particularly moving chapter, thank you. Some days when we couldn’t find it in ourselves to write for our own sake, we wrote because someone said “From Winter’s Ashes is my favorite story.”, and so on the days we thought maybe we could bear letting ourselves down, we couldn’t let you down. So we didn’t. Writer’s thrive on knowing that their words mean something to someone else.

Writing this story as a webserial offered pressures I needed to flourish and grow as a writer: How to panic (productively) under a deadline, how to knock out words fast, how to edit faster, and how to streamline publishing processes to meet the expectations of others.

It taught me a lot about the skills I didn’t have, and I promise you all that by the time book two begins to arrive online, you’re going to see a big transformation in this site, and the skills Keith and I bring to the table. We’ve learned that we can’t do it all, but we can certainly do more, and big thanks go out to fellow webserial authors and entrepreneurs who leant their advice and help.

For my fellow webserial writers, aspiring and otherwise: Do it and keep doing it. Learn from it. Don’t release crap, but do release on time, and if the choice is release something that sucks, or release it late, choose the one that isn’t releasing it late. You can always go back and edit and rewrite (Keith and I did, and have, and will). But you can’t fix a blown deadline. Meet your deadlines.

Keith and I spent a lot of time working hard on the foundation of From Winter’s Ashes, knowing that eventually there’d be readers who wanted to test that foundation, and it assuredly was! Thanks to our more detail-oriented readers who challenged me on the thermodynamics of magic at every turn, justifying all that work that went into it. A special thank-you on that note to the Reddit groups /r/theydidthemath and especially /r/MagicBuilding, without whose help the Thaum system would have had many more errors. Any remaining errors are solely mine, or deliberate inclusions for the sake of plot.

Keith earns his own thank-you. By wordcount he contributed about 20% of the story, but there’s hardly a line of dialogue in the story that wasn’t made better by his work. Most of the characters in the story are his creation, and he can write humour and smart-ass, snappy dialogue, while he leaves me with the tear-jerking parts. Simply put: Without Keith I couldn’t write Heather Blackthorne. He’s been a steady editor throughout the project, and knows me well enough to call me out on moments of lazy writing, or how to squeeze another ounce of effort out of me to make a page shine.

Finally, for those folks who are always curious about the music authors write to:

Keith wrote to Nightwish and Within Temptation, in particular “Our Solemn Hour” and “Dead Boy’s Poem“.

Patrick wrote to Carbon Leaf, in particular “Cinnamindy” and “Let Your Troubles Roll By“. Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts “Knock a Little Harder” also saw many replays.

See you all in From Spring’s Storms!

— Patrick Rochefort


 

Preview: From Spring’s Storms

Recalled from the north, Heather finds herself taken into the care of the highest echelons of the Circle, and in the company of an ally…

***

Roland smiled, and then slipped an envelope out of his breast pocket, offering it to her. “If you’d like to sit down, I’d like to talk to you about the next few days and weeks, and help you with any other questions you might have. And give you some important reassurances, as well.”

The envelope was heavy, and oddly weighted, bulging in at end. Heather blinked in mild surprise as she felt the weight of it, and turned it over. Her name was written in flowing, artful script across the front. She cracked the wax seal open with her thumb.

A silver heart-shaped locket spilled into her hand, attached to a fine silver chain.

Roland waited until she had the locket in hand, before seating himself. He spoke with a heartfelt urgency that held Heather’s attention. “You’ve lost the two people who are most important to to your heart. Sometimes, our patients worry that we want to replace them, or help them be forgotten. To put their pain behind them without caring why that pain is there in the first place.

“My work is to help you with that pain, Heather. But not to replace them. Not to lessen their memory, or make them any less special to your heart.”

The locket sprang open at the touch of her thumb, and Heather’s eyes flew open wide, and promptly flooded with tears.

Inside the locket lay careful, deft graphite sketches on paper. As recognition dawned, Heather’s hand began to shake.

My husband! My son!

The likenesses were marvelous. Some artist’s hand had worked the graphite with care, capturing fine details she hadn’t seen in four years, details she was heartsick to discover she’d forgotten. Those crow’s feet at the corners of Stephen’s eyes. Anthony’s chubby cheeks, his father’s eyes. These are my boys!

Heather’s eyes flew up to Roland. The lines in the locket’s drawings were so delicate, carefully shaded, evidently worked with love and care by an unseen hand. Her mouth worked soundlessly, trying to form the words to match her thoughts: These… these are too good. There’s no way they sketched this so well just from reports. How?

Roland read her thoughts: “It took us a while to find the people who remembered them,” he said softly. “Your mother. Your son’s childhood friends, and your husband’s old comrades, like Renny Simons. They were all kind enough to spend some time with me and the artist, making sure the likeness was right. I hope you like it.”

The envelope tumbled from her nerveless fingers, and Heather clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle the first sob. Tears swam in her eyes as she held the pendant, staring down at faces seen only in dream and memory for years. 

A dam broke inside her then, releasing a flood held back badly for four years. Heather ducked her head, and her fingers dug furrows into her cheeks. She tried and utterly failed to steady her breathing. Motes and sparks began to gather and roil around her, thick as clouds, flying from her eyes with every blinked-away tear.

Roland sat in respectful silence, offering no distraction or disturbance to the moment or to the commitment it epitomized. He watched her with gentle eyes unwavering in their sincerity, sharing in the burden of her joy and pain. Now and then he poured his concern through his gaze, and swept his eyes over her fiery motes. They vanished, dispelled by his concern for both her and the furniture alike.

Heather’s eyes couldn’t leave the locket, drawn irresistibly back to the faces inside. My boys. My boys. My husband. My son. Oh Saints I miss you, I miss you every day and I never stop missing you, I can’t take a breath without missing you. All I can dream about every night is you both, and it is the most awful thing.

For long, torturous minutes, she cried, her tears impossible to restrain. Occasionally, she pushed a shaking finger around the rim of the locket, carefully brushing away the motes of fire that clung to it. Suddenly, mortally afraid the paper inside would catch and flash to fine ash at a wrong breath.

“We…”  Heather swallowed, her throat clicking audibly as she tried to push down the lump that rose in her throat.  She tried again, and began to speak, her voice hitching with irrepressible sobs: “We never had it easy, Roland. Church knight and a city guard? Always a chance something could go wrong. But he started cutting back his hours once Anthony came along.  He said- he said a kid needs a dad. And being a Knight is too important to let go. So he took the cut to his hours, so I could work more.” 

Heather closed her eyes, and slowly pushed the locket closed. She lifted it up to her lips, and brushed a kiss across the polished silver. 

“It’s kind of funny, I guess? He- he was right. The work was important. B-but it got em both killed, in the end.” Her face broke into a grimace of grief, and she doubled over the locket, sobs ripping through her chest once more.

“He was a good man.” Roland said firmly, and his hand settled on her shoulder. “And your son was a good boy. And that’s why we’re not going to replace them, Heather, or lose them to the past. And we’re never going to forget about them.”

Very gently, his hands encircled hers, and opened them. From her hands he took the locket, opened the chain, and fastened it around her neck.

“We’re going to make sure they’re always close to your heart, from now on. No matter where you go, or what you do.”


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