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Fantasy Fiction

Sometimes, the canvas stays blank.

Even when the ideas are there. But, if the idea isn’t a winning idea, why bother? Naomi exhaled. She spun her brush around her fingers. The drops of paint on her palette board, seven different colours, had already begun to dry. It wouldn’t be long until the candle melted to nothing, too.

Better get to it. Are we starting today or tomorrow?

She ignored the thought. A light breeze passed by, fluttering the curtains, warm air in Tien’s summer. The nation of art and forestry. Conquered once, freed, now twice as proud. Naomi stopped spinning her paintbrush. People always love to see art of their home, don’t they? She dabbed the brush in water, wet the colours on her palette board, and began.

A couple minutes became hours. Moonlight glowed, reflecting off the glass of her table-side lantern. She replaced the candle between brush strokes. A verdant green worked for the forest, foliage dense and almost overbearing. Enough roots spread across the dirt to trip somebody a dozen times over. A deer, Tien’s favourite animal, drinking from a clear pond-

Naomi stopped. She sighed, then dropped her brush into the water bucket.

“What am I doing?” she mumbled.

Oh, is it that time already? Okay, grand reveal, what do we have here?

“Another mess,” she said. “Something I hate, and I already want to burn it. Set it aflame. It’s all been done before. Nobody would like this.”

Good thinking. Throw it into the trash, try again next week.

“I can’t keep doing this. How do I…” Naomi tapped her fingers against her palette board. The deer looked wrong. No life to it. The pond had zero depth. A glimmer existed on the water without any sunlight above. Another failed idea. Would’ve come off as an insult to the people of Tien. A waste of time.

Well, what were you saying?

“How do I stay relevant if I don’t paint for weeks at a time?”

Why are you asking yourself? You know the answer. Paint something decent.

She breathed in. Out. Naomi stood, stretched, and made her way to the washbasin. She scrubbed the palette until it shined. Washed her brushes until they looked like new. Set up a fresh canvas, fully opened the blinds to the starlight, then took a seat.

“I’ve won a couple times,” she said. She set herself up, dotting her palette with a new array of colours. “I’ve been runner-up even more. At my age, I’m as good as it gets. These other artists should all be worried.” Naomi readied her brush, spinning it around her fingers. “This…shouldn’t be hard.” 

Let’s try again.

She nodded. A new idea, then. Clear skies and pegasi abound—the unstoppable flying cavalry of Middknight. Home. Riders with their bright, cyan-coloured jackets, lined with plates, a lion in mid-roar engraved on the right shoulder. Who in Tien wouldn’t want to see a painting of their neighbouring country, who had rushed to their aid during the great war?

Pegasi done in a pearl white. Skies a light blue. The moon descended outside, and the early morning birds made their appearance. Chirps and whistles. One landed on the windowsill, viridian green with red eyes, and watched as she painted the clouds grey. Silver for the riders' swords…then…

This one, too?

“Quiet,” Naomi said. 

Maybe you’ve lost it.

“Shut up. I can paint. I’m good at it…” The pegasi didn’t look right. How high were their wings supposed to be? And the clouds didn’t seem to match the rest of the painting. “Goddess be damned,” Naomi mumbled. She dropped her brush, then rested her hand against her forehead. “Nothing works.”

Why don’t we try something else?

“Like what?” she said. “This is it. This is what the judges want. I have to paint like this, because it’s what wins, and the Goddess knows I can’t paint what I like, because the judges won’t spare it a glance.” Naomi raised her head to the painting. Her eyes watered. “If I want to be the best damn artist there is, I have to win…”

Is it worth this madness?

“Yes,” she said. “Because it means everything to me.”

Naomi stood and wiped the tears on her sleeve. She walked over to her desk, its surface littered with crumpled papers—dozens of drafts all for one letter. She found a clean piece, a quill, then pulled up a chair. Naomi took a seat and sighed.


Miss Vali, she wrote.


I can’t get myself together. Every idea I have fails. I want to quit I’m trying my best to keep at it, yet everything I paint looks flawed. I don’t want anyone to see my work like that. 

I moved to Tien since it’s the kingdom of art, but now I’m out of place.

I’ve taken a break. It was hollow. I used to enjoy painting so much! Now I feel like I’m bent on winning, painting only for the judges, and have lost all passion along the way. I’m writing to you for advice, because, well, you’re the greatest person I’ve ever known. An unmatched foster parent. 

I’m sorry you have to hear from me like this. I know you raised me to be resilient to everything.


Naomi.


She read it over once, twice, then rested her head against the desk, and slept. Send it come morning, or whatever time it would be.


- - -


The days passed, one after the other. Night shifts at a soup kitchen—mornings staring at a blank canvas. Motivation nowhere to be found. A palette of dry paints always in hand. Doubtful thoughts louder than ever.

Knocking interrupted them. She got up, and opened the door.

“Naomi Amaya?” a messenger asked. A leather satchel lay opened at his side, a deer with thick antlers etched on the front. “Got a letter for you from Middknight.”

“That was fast.”

“That’s Tien for you. Tell your cavalry to keep up with us in skirmishes.”

“Ha ha.”

She closed the door, then turned, letter in hand. It couldn’t be good. Grief. Disappointment. Regret. Vali had always been compassionate, but tough. Naomi backed up, rested against the wall, then slid down until she sat on the stone floor.

She ran her thumb under the seal—a wax print of a lion.


Naomi, the letter read.


Let all those judges eat dirt.

Paint what you want. Be that kid who would beg me to buy her charcoal sticks, then stays up all night drawing void creatures and horrors beyond mortal comprehension. That’s you. You’ve made it this far. No reason you can’t stick with it.

And there are other contests, child! Don’t be bent on one that does not care for your style. There’s the whole world waiting for your talent. You need to keep your passion over everything—it’s worth it over keeping yourself up at night.

Know that I love you, Naomi. 

As you are in mine, you are the most important person in your life. 

Treat yourself that way. 


Valianne.


Tears escaped her eyes as she finished reading.

“I’ll try again,” she whispered.


- - -


Naomi spun her paintbrush around her fingers. A different set of colours took up her palette board. No nature this time, no landscapes, or anything bound to fail after a few hours’ time. She smiled. 

I doubt this will do well. The judges will laugh-

“They can all eat dirt. You know, I can’t believe we’re arguing over this, still.” She readied her brush—a painting of a leviathan from the void, with tentacles and sharp jaws, would catch someone’s attention. “I mean, you’re helpful, but I like you more when you’re quiet…er.”

With black and silver, she painted space and the surrounding stars. The world below rested as a small sphere on the canvas. The colossal beast, done in dark shades of purple, loomed above with its hundreds of eyes, sleepless and all-knowing. Its appendages shadowed the globe. Ready to consume and devour. Naomi laughed.

The voice in her thoughts had faded away.

For what could’ve been the first time in ages, she looked at her painting, and adored it.

July 04, 2022 17:28

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62 comments

Zelda C. Thorne
05:50 Jul 11, 2022

Hi Alex, I really liked this. Love the way it translates to other art forms, and indeed anything where a competition with judges is involved. Love the end. The judges can eat dirt- favourite part.

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Alex Sultan
22:00 Jul 12, 2022

Thank you for reading, friend. I appreciate the kind words!

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Hi Alex! I am so happy you wrote another story. This seems to be a reflection of your mood lately, and I think it was a great idea to write on this theme. The first few lines of Naomi's letter to Vali is sometimes what I feel, too. The first line of Vali's reply is what I remind myself–though I hadn't used those words exactly. Then I go write some more of my sci-fi space opera or my fantasy world, whichever I take a fancy to. The description of Naomi gleefully painting whatever SHE wants is really fun. A few critiques: [She spun h...

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Alex Sultan
10:20 Jul 10, 2022

Thank you for reading, friend. I'm glad you liked it - I wrote it based on hitting a wall with writing, and plan it to be my last story on this site for some time(unless a very good prompt comes up). Otherwise, onto bigger things. I do like the edits you brought up - it is always very kind of you to go through my story in such depth. I made a handful of changes based on your comments, and I especially liked the ones you brought up regarding Vali's letter. I appreciate the comment - I do look forward to going over your newest story when I g...

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Gigi Gibson
15:29 Jul 13, 2022

Alex… I’m relatively new on this platform, and am disappointed to hear that you are not planning to write here again for a long while. Your story is of excellent quality, and although a couple of Guadalupe’s suggestions were good, I rather enjoyed your story just the way it was and wouldn’t change 99.9% of it. I do hope that you’ll change your mind and keep the stories coming here. Kindest regards.

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Alex Sultan
15:41 Jul 15, 2022

Thank you, Joanne - I do appreciate the kind words. Unfortunately, I do want to move onto bigger things, novels and contests with higher stakes, and Reedsy has been feeling like unnecessary stress most weeks. If the right prompt comes up I'll definitely post something, but otherwise, I'm sorry you caught sight of my work here at the end of my run. All the best.

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Gigi Gibson
17:16 Jul 15, 2022

I totally understand. Have you checked out vocal.media? Here’s a link… https://vocal.media/challenges The “Challenges” are contests that usually pay well, but have a lot of entries. It costs about a hundred dollars per year to become a Vocal+ member, but all the Challenges are then free. Wishing you much success on your journey Alex. Kindly, Joanne

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Hi Alex, I wrote another story. I pray you are well! I am praying for the success of your novel.

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E. Roux
14:00 Jul 08, 2022

I enjoy your prompts and this one is no exception. It's a story we all can relate to in different ways and it's so direct, especially with the crossed-out 'I want to quit' line. Thank you for posting this!

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Alex Sultan
10:13 Jul 10, 2022

Thank you for the kind words, Evina. I appreciate the comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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Janey El Napier
12:51 Jul 08, 2022

I've said before how good your imagery is so I don't need to state the obvious - the allegory with this story, though, is probably one of the most relatable things I've ever read. It's been a brick wall for me over the past couple of months to write what I want to write rather than what I think will be liked by the judges. (Though I know success isn't everything, the perfectionism in me and ex-gifted child says otherwise lol). This story shows a self-awareness that I think a lot of people lack and when combined with your own carefully built ...

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Alex Sultan
06:37 Jul 10, 2022

Thank you for reading, friend. I'm with you - hitting the wall is the worst. I sort of just channelled it all into this story. Added, Naomi is favourite character I've ever come up with, so this one flowed naturally. I'm glad you liked it. I really do appreciate the kind words - my novel is going to be good. As good as it gets. All the passion is there so I can't see it failing 😎

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Sarah Saleem
18:18 Jul 07, 2023

The writing style is great and I liked the message that passion wavers if we force ourselves to do something we don't want to.

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Hi Alex, I wanted to check in on you. I’m always praying for you. How’s your novel going? I’ve written more stories. My newest are “The Miners of Mount Elgon” and “Beat You With a Shovel”.

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Hi Alex, I wrote another story. I pray you are well.

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Hey Alex, I wrote another story. I pray this finds you well.

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S. Thomson
09:34 Jul 22, 2022

Very clever, Alex. I've had these thoughts myself a few times! Thank you for sharing.

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