About Order & Entropy

Book IBook I – (Index) Book IIBook II – (Index) Book IIIBook III – (Index)
Book IV – (Index) Book V – (Index) Book VI – (Index)
imageBook VII(Index)
For centuries there has been a tenuous peace through the ruins of the Corinthian Empire. One bought with the blood of countless thousands, and floundering in the shadows of a cold war. A conflict fueled by magic, faith, and dragons. The memory of mages may be long, but time begets complacency, and ambition is a wolf ever circling at the door.
Three children are cast into the royal court of a small western kingdom. Avrale, a land ever caught between the true power brokers of their world. Yet the forces spiraling around the Ashton children hint at a larger picture. That nothing about them is at all ordinary. Even if all they want is to live their lives, and find their place, the world it seems has other plans. They will learn that gifts can be burdens, and great power is never without consequence.

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Commentary VII:19

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Virtue and Other Vices

There was an arrangement of scenes that probably went better with this weeks epigraph, which fell directly out of commentary in a previous week. My notes on the epigraph are a bit muddled. Good UX, and Virtue signalling. It might not show for the site, and I do sometimes feel bad about it by I’m sometimes a UX designer in my day job, and good UX those in the industry will sometimes pontificate, is invisible. You don’t even notices it. One simply intuits through a process without feeling like their hand was held in the least. Which I draw a parallel to in that good, practical behavior is oft less than notable, unless it is utterly contrary to what everyone else did. Then again, virtue signalling is a thing. Thing which people do specifically to be seen as good.

This is a very raw line, that never got edited, I’m not sure who it was written for at this point. Probably Camron, but sounded too much like Mayari, or maybe Mayari but wasn’t really needed:

Virtue is a vice. A vice we indulge in deeply. Self righteous, indulgence. Lies we tell ourselves, because they feel glorious. Well, I’m not above an honest lie.

The title is subtle, or I’m full of it. It started with the d, but that went. Positions of compromise, are oft arrived at in compromised positions. Lines which are drawn, and respected for they are not crossed, because there are consequences.

Everything was warm, and soft. Held surer than iron wrapped in fine velvet. Everything terrible in a world could not enter, even should it seem it was already there. A softness offering comfort, against something harsh beneath.

What I wrote over Christmas break is certainly taking it’s time to fall into place. Nineteen chapters, and we are now only two weeks from the fall of Avrale. I may slightly adjust the timing of all this in future, reconsider exact travel times, but as slow as people have felt like they have been moving for a world without trains, planes, or automobiles they have been rushing through it all to a questionable degree. Dire steeds, and all.

From the perspective of telling the story, I have three or more narratives playing out, and that is always dangerous for the momentum of action. I waffle a bit. O&E was never a story about ‘action.’ The war we have built too was sabotaged by a clever mortal prince throwing himself upon the mercy of dragons. Mired in the only thing that ever gets in the way of tyrants. Ruling, when they have no one to crush, and make examples of.

Well, ok, maybe a little crushing.

It was almost like she was beside it all. Could sit there, and watch herself relish surrender. See something beautiful, and strange in the monster. A woman with such a look of relish on her own face. Smiled like having taken a bite of a delicious meal. It fizzled, like a shadow cast over a thought. A heart trembled. She clutched his hand. Felt him there, curled behind her, unsure. He squeezed, and again let out a breath on her skin.

It’s been implied before that the narrator of this story has a reason for a certain limited omniscience. Still through the course of editing I pulled this more into the opening perspective of Maeren as the close figure we are looking at, and yet cast her own perspective outside. A disassociation split with a metaphysical element. That she is almost beside herself watching what is pleasant when a heart struggles with that. The view of Camron’s expression pulled from the preceding paragraph into this one as though she is seeing it, though she couldn’t be given where her eyes are…

“You do not disappoint, pet. Such a very good girl you’ve been.”

The words were anathema to sense, and the praise stung for how a warmth filled so many parts. If she looked like a deer frozen at the snap of the twig, she felt it. Though what she found, to look up she could not say. A predator, or something entirely else. Fingers slid down her scalp, and pinched at the nape of her neck.

I have placed myself and dear Maeren in a very strange place. Camron left her little choice, and as a dream said of walking or flying, she opted to work with the forces she could not fight, rather than fight them to dire ends. The mouse has courted the lion it could not escape, though the thorn in her paw may be something hard to remove, boredom. (There are two Aesop mixed up here that have common conflation, but I’m sure I saw them so re-arranged somewhere over the years.)

It is by Maeren that a conqueror is re-framed, is given no reason to do the worst, and we do not know what she would have. Indeed we do not really know she did not in some sense. So much is pressed upon this moment. Desires, and sensations manipulated. A maliciousness bubbles underneath as we see a woman for all that she is. Tenderness and spite tangled in someone who sees as a pet at least so much as a person. As an animal of lesser purpose, but also one of potential.

The overt racism of corners of Osyraen culture is almost secondary to their attitude around the gifted. A culture has conflated some of this, but not all. Sell to the average Osyraen that they are better than the commoner of other lands.

Of all the things to feel strange about I can’t help but think of an expression that enters the culture via a cartoon, simply as applied to a human, viewed through this lens. ‘Elmyra-ed.’ I guess it’s not so common an expression as I think, given Google gets confused. Yet a good percentage of people in my life seem to be aware of the expression. The very character that is the namesake of this verb is a strange commentary from the start. Evoking (by intent) the hunter of wascally wabits as a little girl who all the animals fear more than hunters, or predators, because she will squeeze them to bits.

I will note that the specific uncertainty of a deer not knowing what it has seen is a call back to earlier content, but only so relevant to the understanding of the plot. It is not something I consider to have a clear meaning, but rather an overtone. Something I was very aware of through the course of editing. In the cosmic-horror genre a common trope is oft a lost Aesop onto itself. That if one is truly dealing with an alien force that can manipulate time/reality/things far above human perspective, their motives and interests may be beyond us to even grasp. Like ants trying to understand elephants. Here that is turned on it’s head in many different ways. The self aggrandizement of a glorified lech, and all the players are pieces in a great game, though some of the those higher motives are far more human, and understandable, in spite of such perspective.

Everything went soft, and warm again. Melted in sanguine bliss.

I knew the etymology, the larger context of the word sanguine, but I don’t think I’ve ever before used it aptly by it’s primary definition. Though it could be taken several ways, truly the distinction of a certain positivity in a bad situation do apply. A flushed feeling and complexion all the more.

“This, is the most primitive part of you. Here just inside, is the seat of instinct. Fear, lust, hunger, and thirst all start here. Up from the root, into the core.” Camron ran her fingers back up along a skull. Sent a shiver in its wake. Whatever she did not touch was cold.

The Osyraen/Thaean understanding is a bit abstract to us. They consider several parts of the structures of the brain that we might term the lizard brain the same, even if they are unique structures. They know mostly what parts do what, and recognize their presence in other animals. They probably have a more extensive knowledge of the parts that Camron is implying, but she’s simplifying. Those core parts that sit on top of the brain stem.

“The world has learned much from us.” Camron interrupted, with a tone that said she was talking. “Osyraens first came to understand the nature of these things. Observed them in the Viper Wasp. They sting the viper…” A finger stopped at the juncture of Maeren’s skull, and tapped. It reverberated but not in pain, however overwhelming.

That something preys on the vipers of Osyrae was a strange whim along the way through Book VI. It’s become an interesting touch stone. To tip the hand a bit, that could be implied in the nature of the world, that the viper became ‘part of the story.’ Tied up in the vast and alien world spell that tries to achieve an end. To go back to the idea of a rune in a spell, it has no innate power, that is gained through use, repetition, and route.

“Right here. Several other places usually, but this seems to be the one that does it. Their venom isn’t all that potent. Hurts believe me, you learn to give them space, or go to war. Cause it goes quite number for a while — hmm – then hurts a whole lot more. Awful, but hardly dangerous. Useful for some things. Delivered right into the juncture of the skull though, it causes paralysis in a little old viper. A weakness.”

Through this scene I think I hardly portray the monster that one might have expected. We see Camron as a person with the empathy, and morals of a cat. Vestigial, and easily pushed aside by instinct, or what she wants in a moment, but she does feel things, and intellectualizes far more. The strange perspective of her ‘loving’ opening position with Maeren can be seen through several lenses. She finds it safe. A woman of little gift wrapped up in her arms, and unable to escape — her prisoner — is no threat. Also really really quite pleasant. Warm. Hers. Her fingers twined in a man’s hair that he also not slip away the same. She feels powerful, and in control, and if anything else, these things; Power. Control. Safety. Must come first for her. She’s explained this after all. Learned behavior. She starts to see weakness in her position.

I find myself wondering, if Camron is almost talking to herself through all this. She starts from the intention of re-establishing her dominance as a moment of intimacy fades into the light of day. Her superiority, her knowledge. Reviewing that she will press upon structures of Maeren’s mind to get the results she desires. Encourage her to feel things conducive to being what she wants. Feed them, even if one could get the opposite impression. Reminding herself of her own world view of animals to be trained. It has cracks.

“Huh…” It was all Maeren managed. An unnerving monologue warring with the warm contentment stirring through her body. She listened detached, and crystal clear, as though her body, and mind were in two places. Both enraptured in very different ways.

This was where the detachment seen in spots started, and spread through the scene through editing. Maeren is being pulled a few ways, by herself, and by the woman manipulating her. Offered these unnerving musings, and overwhelming bliss.

Camron sighed. “People think they all go mad, but most just die. It turns out, it’s only a small chance. A tiny percentage of the time the larva eat just the right bits to drive the snakes wild. That different parts, do different things. Fear. Hunger. Rage…”

“How horrible,” Maeren mumbled.

“Never feel sorry for a viper.”

Camron was about to distract from her whole point, but Maeren interrupts. Maerens aesthetics and empathy surpass any fear of this dire fate being spelled out by the powerful woman holding her. She feels sorry for the deadliest of snakes. It changes the direction of a morning, and perhaps a day. Empathy begets empathy. Camron is herself perhaps unaware of the irony of her own statement.

“This, right here.” Camron tapped. “Terrible things, unfit for a Lady or pet to hear, but we know, that this, right, here… Just under my fingers, is all that you really are. The rest is animal. Inseparable from a beast. How to move, the mechanisms of speech perhaps, but nothing all that interesting to say. This part here, puts it all together. Makes… choices…”

I think I picked the first inkling of this understanding up from some medical drama my wife was watching over the years. It is also the part damaged by the horror of frontal lobotomy I’ve learned from various sources. The horrible things Camron refers to, though surgery is nearly non-existent in the world of Thaea manipulation of internal organs by gift is another mater. I do want to clarify this goes quite the opposite way.

Osyraens learned that feeding parts of the brain with living energy proved far more effective than damaging others. Enhancing structures with the utmost of care produced better, more loyal human pets, that were still fully functional. Though Camron’s own words about horrible things, imply they ruled methods out.

Warmth spread under the fingers, and a brow furrowed in confusion, relaxed.

Maeren’s vision went almost white, shot through with clouds of yellow, and the eyes of a General staring into hers. It was a most unfair emotion that welled.

Here this delicate region of of critical thinking, and consciousness is washed over with living gift, nudging on the most conscious constructs of pleasure, and attachment, pushing at the other end where primitive animal instinct has been manipulated.

It is not quite possible to directly force someone to love in the world of Thaea. Love, and even it’s most animal cousins are far too complex for that. They may be forced to have sensations. Aroused. Soothed. Imprint. Attach. The mind is made a traitor, and what we would call a Stockholm syndrome accelerated by unraveling all that might get in the way, and accentuating the positive. Induce a sanguine surrender, as the meaning is used above. So long as she is to Maeren more pleasant than monstrous the effect can prove quite strong.

Camron sighed again. She rolled over, and pulled her arm from beneath a head that was left unsupported on the bed. Dazed Maeren fumbled to pull a pillow down for support. Struggled to get it bit in front, to hang onto. It didn’t much feel like she could move any more than that.

Camron sat at the edge of the bed. Lingered there a moment. She leaned over, and retrieved shirts first. Began buttoning a very formal base. “You’ve much to learn, pet, but I believe you can.”

Humanizing Camron has been a troublesome impulse. One I don’t reject, but fills me with all manner of malaise. Here we see a woman going about her day, setting aside her entertainments, and some semblance of her humanity to return to being the abject conquer of a land. The iron hand in a velvet glove as the opening alludes. (A Napoleonic expression in origin it seems.)

A split. She sees Maeren as a project with potential. An animal with the necessary capacities to become more… useful, even worthy of the attention she will lavish on her for her own distraction, and if some part of her under all this has doubt, one will leave to reading between the lines. How much she sighs for interrupting her fun to return to her responsibility, or if some deeper misgivings underlay this, and a mingle with a pragmatism taking hold.

This drew pursed lips, from Camron, but they broadened. She looked back up. “Do not bore me. Entertain me, and you will be assured, that you are… of my Court. That even the highest general, would not dare overstep… a reasonable bound… of my personal property. Am I understood? Hmm? I am the effective ruler of the land as you imply. I annul your marriage. I declare you mine, until I change my mind. I’ll write up some proper paperwork. Nice, and official, for everyone to see.”

Here we see the Carmon we have known reasserting herself. Her larger concerns intruding, a promise of pleasant things, and a warning of those less. That she specifically calls out ‘for everyone to see,’ is part of her larger intent to de-legitimize the existent line. To make the former princess consort her concubine by edict. The prince made property of a former servant now herself property. Take of it all what you will.

As an aside there was something interesting strewn in my notes that I will try to bring around to the point.

With the Clarion’s and Lycians I took the faith, and the archetype of my birth, and all related religious constructs, and split it. I divested them both of gods, though one looks to the woman who lived, and the others to the man who did not die. Divided them upon principles of desire, and how it is to be dealt with more than almost anything else. Sylvia was after all very well read in the philosophy of Clarion doctrine, for how else could she — an intellectual — combat it.

Sylvia is the more familiar savior figure in a sneaky way, though she went farther in a sense. If one embraces that living is harder. (This expression is older than a modern musical, I’m sure, but cannot place it, somewhere in my childhood.) She died a different way, on the crucible of time, but all the more refusing to become something else. To betray her virtues for life. To defeat her great enemy by becoming anathema to herself.

Sylvia was tempted by a vaguely serpent like being, winged, and vast. A well meaning enough ruler of the world in peril. Tempted not just by what she herself might gain (to not die was the offer, for knowledge she already had, irony,) but also to defend the innocent. Her closest living companion was offered the same, and Sylvia did not judge Alara to accept, for either reasons she did. Not her choice to fight the good fight, nor her choice to live at the price of becoming a living incarnation of war.

Sylvia judged herself far more for her pride. Her refusal to surrender her attachment to humanity to slay her great enemy (death) by becoming ‘his’ hand. The arbiter.

In the Avatar we see the promise of war, and glory. The vanquisher of dragons. The slayer of evils. The bright shining symbol of a promised savior. Also an implication that ascension is possible. The great figure at the end, in the day of a great war of gods. The Ragnarök or Armageddon of a world… that it carried on past. The calamity brought change, not an end. The dragons retreated to their corners, and bid their time to come again. As they always do.

There is a third side to it all, or is it four? A moral grid with axis of liberty and restraint, war and peace, at a price of compromises. So much evil has been done in the name of every god or faith, but in service of avarice, and pride… Etore said it a while back, Osyraen’s don’t call it a faith, they call it a monarchy.

A mirror hung beside a door. Camron stopped to check herself, but found her own smile displeasing. Straightened her collar, and pulled on a coat tossed over a small drawer in a fit of amusement.

‘Wiping the smile off her own face,’ was a tempting phrase. Being too happy, to pleasant, or pleased works against the air Camron seeks to maintain. Here the perspective shifts, and is a good reason for a seen break moments apart. She’s the one seeing moments the way the narrative wants to be structured.

There was a small painting of a boy knocked over there. She set it upright, and glanced to the signature in the corner. She’d seen it before, ‘MPeri.’ The r looked like a bird, with an extra stroke or two of decoration.

This was an abject whim, that does a dozen little things. It started as the simple thought of when she threw her coat over something. This questions what it was thrown over, what was on it, did she make a mess? A small painting, as there are no photographs, even if photogramy has been done a few times with spells. A painting, the context, so many things lead us back to Mercu, and that fit so well with what I knew I was writing the scene to serve. Since all these details came in through editing.

If that element of the small boy affected by this all factors in, a curious but proper element that emerged by accident. As he had already come up.

“Are you tired of him?” Camron asked, searching. Some mixture of curious, and disinterested, rather like being looked at by a cat.

I’ve a certain love of cats, but I don’t think anyone gets what the heck is behind the look they give. It’s unfathomable except for possibly a constant (mostly) idle re-evaluation of whether someone is food, threat, or useful for getting food, or entertaining them. Probably. Who knows.

“If it’s all the same to you,” Camron began, still seemed to search Alice’s face for something. “He is probably best where he is, just now. I assure you, the… Lady Maeren, and her… man are quite… indisposed.”

Here one could read several things, and certainly they align. It is best in Camron’s opinion that the inconvenience of the boy be out of her way. Conversely this scene exists because Camron has missed one notable tree for the tall forest alla round. Focused on the monarchy she overlooked what she did not specifically know. That the daughter of a man she seeks has been under her nose all along.

Alice let go of her skirt, and tried for the life of her to work out how best to do as bidden. Leaned forward, and felt quite uncomfortable with it all, and exposed.

The reason for the curtsy as opposed to the bow is little discussed. Not generally speaking polite to question traditions, and this one in particular one can only infer (no one proper enough dictate such history would dare speak) a reason that goes unspoken. Indeed with a high neck line, a certain top heaviness would be a remaining reason it would be at all extra inconvenient for a woman to bow, but hardly make the act impossible. Camron goes quite the opposite way, the point of bowing to her is the humility of those beneath her. The result quite intentional.

“Peregrine? Like the caravan?” Camron was shrewd. “Anders… Hmm, northern, that explains the hair. Quite pale though. Still a bit of our blood in much of the north. The hair is ever so stubborn. Your children have it, don’t they?” She ran her fingers through her own dense braids, setting a loose one over her ear.

Camron is full of little ‘feminine’ mannerisms that creep in just to make her harsh side more jarring. I kind of imagine it as all quite intentional. Here this act meets an odd synergy between a slight softening, a rigid demeanor to put everything in it’s place, and illustrative of what she’s saying, while disarming one she’s suspicious of.

Camron hummed. “I own a Temyn back home, silly little bastard. He’s a funny pretty kitty, with his mixed lineage. Ears look like flames rising up from his thick crimson mane. Black with rusty stripes all over. He’s a very soft, very good boy, if a bit too playful at times. Always tended to encourage the worst in him. The animal. My fault, he does try to be good.”

We cast Camron back in the light of her larger context. She owns a man back home. Describes him a bit like a pet as she sees him, that his feline features only facilitate. She can be quite frank, but that is an Osyraen cultural affectation. The only proprieties they really care about are the practical ones. Signs of obedience. Camron is a talker, and she has found that she can disarm people by talking. She suspects evasion.

Alice looked bemused. “He sounds… delightful. A… cat? Do you like… cats?”

If Alice has ever heard the word Temyn, she does not begin to conflate it with Sylvan. I think that’s quite reasonable. The Sylvans have kept so to themselves over the centuries that as was implied in Book II, the Temyn were practically a myth.

“Not particularly.” Camron’s humor fell. “Dull animals, compared to a proper pet, that can almost understand what one is saying.” Camron bit her lip. “So your husband is tradeson, a painter? Who found his way into court. Things he sells, mostly have to go out to other lands, far from where they might cause scandal. Plenty of them up in Osyrae. Such a distinctive signature. I do wonder, if he can make my life a great deal easier. ”

It was a whim as I said to add the painting of Aeron above, and this trickled into considering other things. It will be covered, but Mercu makes slight modifications to his more risque portraits, enough to give any woman deniability, and then sells them to caravans on consignment to take them to other lands where they are further removed. It’s common practice all together as I think through the logistics. Anonymity compounded by distance.

“Who was your father?” It was sudden, and direct.

Alice being a more direct, but no more useful link to her father occurred to me well after stumbling down other paths, but there were reasons for Camron to both know, and forget about her in almost equal measure. Almost a bit of trivia. Yes. Alice has well heard that Camron is seeking her father, though we’ll learn a bit more of that later.

“Langsley?” Camron settled before Alice, and appeared so confused as agitated.

“Yes,” Alice answered. “I’m on my second husband, I fear. The first…”

“Does your mother live here?”

There are many disconnects that made me feel ok that Alice had been slipping below Camron’s detection. Alice is pale for a woman of Osyraen decent. Camron asks about her mother, only to clarify what she is struggling to believe. Which she does explain herself soon after.

Camron pursed her lips. Drew her fingers down, and across a throat as she started to step past let her hand fall back to her side. “Don’t be leaving the castle. We will talk again, cugina.”

Cugina I left hanging. I based on a latin root, and shouldn’t be too hard to guess, though it is interesting that in another context a more direct word was used. I think I like the more nuanced distinction, but I’m less sure of the meaning to be taken in it. If a simple cousin slipped out for a woman not present, or if it implies a different view.

As to how the reader should take this, I have several competing intentions at this point that are very close to the same, by a degree of separation, but give ever so slightly different flavors. I’m still sorting out which just pragmatically makes the most sense.

Kiannae woke with a gasp, and stilled to hear the roll of thunder had come with torrential rain. A storm system that persisted, and seemed uninterested in listening to a Stormwalker, not living up to her title. It pattered on, over an inn roof, and against windows rattled. It had only been a single day delay. Gale having none of traveling in such weather.

More rain, and I wanted to give a sensible sense to a delay that explains what has been going on with Kiannae, stranded in some forsaken town along the road.

She clung to the amorphous form half in her arms, or around her. It was impossible to ascribe a face to her lover. She had fallen asleep wrapped in Taloe. In arms, or their illusion, that became like a blanket wound up tight, and warm around her. Though to her own senses, or anyone who might have seen, it was her as well that held the other.

Taloe began a role in the story as an instinctual manifestation. A borrowing of the structures of a living organism arranged by their patterns. This was my early excuse for confusion as to what he was. That human apparition was a manifestation of why magic works. That the essence that the energies gift are based upon love patterns, and so the instructions to form a body came as almost a freebie, a ‘tiny’ sliver of information compared to a functional consciousness. (Yes, DNA is a huge amount of information, but so far as we can tell most of it is junk. There are orders of magnitude more brain cells in the average human brain.)

Of course this resulted in only that which was part of a form borrowed. A boy was left naked in the woods confused, and without memory, only a girl by the fire light for company he did not know how to communicate with. He learned to manipulate his form, to become ever more amorphous, ‘clotheed’ but also who he is has been challenged time, and again.

Still I invoke the occasionally pondered nature of a lover who’s form is fluid to say the least. Taloe as a figure is far beyond a modern expression of ‘gender fluid.’ He can shape himself into almost anything in theory, and leave this form suspended to rest, and drift as his lover sleeps.

I’m very indecisive about pronouns these days with Taloe, he truly is a they in several senses as this scene hinges around.

Kiannae could hear thoughts underneath the illusions of sleep. A distant absence, warded like a spell to trigger, and wake a mind drifting. What he was. How they echoed for approval.

‘Approval is life.’ It stung deeply, and distracted from a question bubbling up to be asked.

Their bond has grown ever closer over the series, but this has also come at an ever more dubious cost. To actually capture a snippet of the the mind, and thoughts, a phase perhaps translated from an animal instinct.

This scene winds up mirroring so much else going on. Where Camron is a conqueror who’s approval is the safety of the pets she has chosen to make, Taloe more abstractly is a symbiotic entity who’s very existence depends on the love of Kiannae. A bond they are stuck with. One flesh, one and a half hearts, and two minds.

The warm blanket receded into a small demure girl of a woman. Like the tide going out, and showing the bay beneath.

“Oh. We are going to do this now, are we?” Kiannae was short. “I heard. I heard the whispers, the plans, the actions. Not that I can remember… a one. What was that?”

Suspicion is a troublesome problem that can’t be escaped. They have had so many conversations, over, and over again as lovers oft do. Taloe is always evasive, always has reasons, not to say things, or claims not to know more, and Kiannae must always parse trusting this.

Fingers were nervous over her heart. Taloe was awake, present, hesitating. “You mean… what I hear all the times? What I can’t escape, since we encountered her?” It was all but wept.

Kiannae gritted her teeth.

The tension seemed to spur an answer. “There were always voices. One a whisper that told truths that weren’t. The other almost heard, that revealed the lies that were true. Both were shouting then. When all was whispers… before, or after. They demanded contrary things… and I… I could not tell them apart.” Taloe wept in her arms. “If I thought I knew which was which, it changed. It defied sense, it was like…”

“Loosing yourself in it?” Kiannae interrupted, and stroked a cheek that threatened to erode beneath tears. “Like the Blight? Like a living fire trying to burn you up?”

What was avoided in the caverns beneath Mordove. What was over stepped, and pushed back by a circumstance out of control was the very trouble we find ourselves in Avrale just now. A mad goddess finding a fly in web that was her own prison. The powers bound in that place had driven Aster to madness, and made her a woman possessed.

When Kiannae intruded, when she brought in Taloe, a manifestation of the world spell it does wind up making a lot of sense in retrospect how it played out. Though the reasons were more personal, that I was not ready to navigate where that story led, and all that has played out since, has been tangled in that choice. Where seduction became an uglier contest, wrought with madness, and conflict. Where identities threatened to crumble.

“Loosing yourself in it?” Kiannae interrupted, and stroked a cheek that threatened to erode beneath tears. “Like the Blight? Like a living fire trying to burn you up?”

Though that started in Book II, or even I. The forces of prophecy that were set to tear apart twins. A story that arose out of a most obtuse chain of events. In the world of Oberin, the first MMO I ever played, everyone looked the same. Male. Female. Everyone was an androgynous bald twin decorated in different armor. This was the world that birthed K’at, K’ia, and K’it, day dreams of explaining who characters I was playing were.

Siblings I concluded. The cleric class wasn’t terribly interesting to play, but druids and wizards much more so. K’at and K’ia it was concluded were twins.

This got a little funny when they were resurrected as a Gnome and a Night Elf in another MMO. “And how they are twins, is quite the story.” The offhanded joke in my head. Through from the start there were the different hair. One black, one silver which goes back to the originals at least in my head. The art was bald after all. The story was always there, I just found more and more of it.

“I do not think it… was just one. Look at it. It was stitched from pieces, like dreams are. You were there. Others. Many places, many faces. As different, as the actions, and the context, but all echoing. Things… born in shadow. Reflections of forces pulling on one another. Rippling through the world. The essence of divinity… is to become, that you are. To guide your own steps, and all that led to you. To become a force written on nature, that you come to pass. You ask me to be this, that I live.”

Taloe has ever more become like Kiannae, vocabulary, a way of speaking. This is in itself doesn’t mean all that much, time, exposure. A direct exposure to her thoughts, her language, her way of speaking, and thinking.

It’s all connected, and Kiannae who thinks she is trying to escape distractions must be led to see it is all part of the same thing. Why is she dreaming of distant things, of Mayari, and dragons. Echoes of the Court of Shadows. It’s all connected. Taloe is a tiny stolen manifestation of something far larger.

“I am at your service. I am who you want me to be, and so long as you want me to be him, I am. I like being… him, and her. You love, him. Maybe not the him, or her, that quite ever was, but, an idea of them. Borrowed from worlds that blend together. I like being this, so please, let me be. Be a love, who a girl wrote upon the world, and all the faces that were. A love of life. Even, if she wished to let it all go, for others sake…”

Approval is life. From the perspective of a feeling, or emotion, Taloe exists in a space like someone desperately in love. Doesn’t just feel like exist without Kiannae is impossible, it is. She is everything, as an entity Taloe is materially dependent on her, bound to her, and in love with her.

“I am your creation, my goddess. The spell you made, that echoed through the world, and saw the truth. I am made of you. Willed to life. Wove of stories, and I choose, to do as you would bid, I write my own. To live, and be what I must, to be.”

The implication Estae/Aster made is that she was Kiannae. The implication, and fear is that Taloe is Kiannae. That is far too simplistic however. Taloe is something more than a split personality. A thing full of outside knowledge, and information. More than a force meant to shape a girl into a woman she needed to be, but shaped by a girl being who she well would.

The substance of souls was poured into a hole in a girl’s heart, and something new woke up, and woven together from things that came before. You could split hairs a thousand different ways how to take it, but it’s best just to presume no model fits. They are made in each other’s image.

Taloe drew a breath. An act, a necessity, a pause of hesitation. A humanity in act, and something so very like it under. Just as the swallow bought more time. Instinct borrowed, the need of excuse all too real.

Kiannae is the close perspective of the scene, but that is ambiguous. She perceives things of the internal state of Taloe, the mechanics of what is going on a bit intrusive. Conflicting with the humanity it so well emulates, to the point of feeling it.

“Navi.” It was almost wistful.

Navi is the first time we are introduced to a ghost, apt that it comes around to her. I had a certain abstract intention from the start that she was an echo of the powers in play. That she was cast by the twins, or their original on time. On the founding of their nation. Specifically the original thought is that Navi was cast in the image of the ascendant Kiannae. The Queen who was and Will Be kind of trope.

This does aside though some implications that the world-spell was made to save another, but who, suspect, and delves what I’m not sure if it will find a place on the page, so I will hold it a bit closer to the chest for now. It’s older, and it felt disingenuous to not address it in this moment. Of course all of that also ascribes an order, and as I’ve said, that may be looking at things backwards.

“There was an ebb, and flow for a time, if time has meaning. You want a story, to put cause to effect in order. To love, and live. To be, or not. There is an anger in the world, that calls to the wronged, the troubled. Those failed by order’s avarice. There were worlds in which she fought. So many fought. Justice danced with vengeance. Became war, and death, and in time set a hand to unmake the world that was so unfair. If that is her story, or merely one she is a part of I can no longer tell. Aliae died, in the end, as all things do.”

The image of the vengeful Aliae, Taloe once referenced have struggled to fully fit the larger narrative. The outline of that was there, how she became a part of the story of the world. As the main narrative wraps up the threads are kind of tying together for me on their own at times. I built a great many things with vague but specific intentions, and have nudged things along patterns that have built to a point where it really all does begin to come together with great relief that… actually yes, I meant to do that. I was not overly specific on the details, but that was the intention.

“Then why are you her now?” Kiannae asked. Fought back her own tears, desperate to understand.

“Because it feels nice, to be small, and safe.” Taloe looked up.

Kiannae knocked her head against her pillow. “Little princess.” She sighed. “You were meant to be me. A spell, watching me. All that made me, me. A mirror, a reflection, a copy.”

Taloe to my imagining is very human, and very unhuman. A sentient manifestation of something hard to describe. They have real emotions, feelings, but they are vastly disconnected from material manifestation that can be a slippery collection of masks to wear. Some were lost, or sacrificed. The story above of Aliae becoming smaller, and smaller, that one who is loved live, might be telling to highlight again.

“If I am, it would only be, because you want me to.” A sniff was an artifice, even if emotion was real enough. It was a paradox of earnestness, and illusion. The warmth and security of being in her arms she felt. A reflection full of things wanted, to intrude, and wash away sorrow, and anger. The fretful recriminations of doubt, and uncertainty, begged to be let go. For a distraction.

The artifice is so hard to see past, as see. We seek to comfort ourselves when we can’t have what we want. Distract ourselves from things we don’t want to deal with. Taloe is his own entity, but he can be in some ways Kiannae’s noble id. A loving partner a bit mixed up with self. Trying to unwind the knot.

“Really?” Taloe laughed. “Do you see it at last? Why?”

“You want me happy. It’s a convenient shortcut.”

We seek comfort. Even when we are sick, or hungry. When we are lonely. Hugging ourselves, touching our lips, there are many tiny human acts that are instinctual reactions to seeking comfort. The animal seeks the hormonal release to comfort itself. To have what it can. We sometimes wish to comfort ones we love, and so try to employ the same upon them to mixed effect.

If one is loving, one wants to make the one they love happy, or some close cousin more convenient. To unwind the knots we get tangled up in. Simple things however complex they really are.

Wren woke with a start. Etore was quivering at his side, lost in frantic dreams.

This was written as the immediate follow up to the dream that echoes across many dreamers. Indeed this scene was in large where that dream came into the story, but from the moment I started writing it I saw a larger picture that has kept us mired in this a few chapters. This section does go on, apologies.

There subtle threads run through three of the scenes. It’s a bit nuanced to boil down so succinctly but it does all connect. They are all bound, spooky action at a distance. Quantum phenomena, entanglement.

He could almost glimpse it, her shadow ringed around them. More idea than substance. Shifting potentials, gripping, and grappling. Ruffling fabric, shifting a bed like someone climbing in. A great weight upon a chest. It defied being unwanted, warm, and twining.

Sleep paralysis has been conflated with alien abduction, faeries, succubi, night hags. There are misleading intentions through all of this. We open with the impression that blame can be put upon the dragon. Much as with sleep paralysis though, in a non supernatural view, the cause may prove closer to home. Yes, Mayari has done things, but here in our close perspective we only see her influence upon Wren. I will take a step aside to capture something.

There is something I have repeatedly tried to untangle. These commentaries are many things, but they have become a key part of a process. A writing style that begins at asking what, and then why or who, repeatedly, with lots of recursive reasoning on where that gets us. When’s and wears are all important but the most boring of details often. From a human perspective there is a cycle of analysis. What happens, why or how does it happen, what do we feel about it, why do we feel about it, how does this feed back upon itself?

I return to the Red Sisters, because this is where we begin down a path of a chain of questions, but first let me make a tiny correction a legend I long ‘printed’ in my head with what was actually said. A conversation with an ex before we quite became a couple. Because while life doesn’t always come with logs, sometimes it’s digital parts do:

8/9/2003 9:47 PM: Eienye: I just want to write a story that is good to read and has sex scenes in it, is that so wrong?

Now how I remembered that opening exchange is more closely represented as ~’I just want to write a story that is good to read where people have sex.’ It’s such a small distinction. Because in large for O&E I did not opt to include sex scenes themselves in the narrative, or where they sort of occur, we focus away from what is happening on the surface. Also while I long ascribed this exchange to have started me down the path of the Red Sisterhood, I find that in the actual log they were an existent thought process, that said ex helped foster. So lets apply the process.

  • What: Woman more driven by sexual desire.
  • Why: An effect of healing.
  • How to feel about it: Not overly fair.
  • What to do about it: More control.
  • How: The very powers leading to this.
  • What to feel about it: More fair, but also a door is left open.

From their beginning the Red Sisterhood were conceived as the fantasy of woman liberated, though placed in a contest with the forces at play. Within the scope of society. The earliest notion that follows in the exchange describes healing as having a side effect. That it enhances life, and all that life is. This is where the dichotomy of Clarion and Lycian starts, what to do with this effect, but quickly this dichotomy was spread further into what would come to be the Lycian order as a whole. An attempt to build, as my mother always chided me of my writing, an egalitarian idea of society (if starting from a differing idea of where moral lines lay,) but placed in contest, and context of how such things will strain against a world much less fair.

The Sisterhood (the Lycian order) begins at this idea of woman truly freed. Not simply to be more sexual, but also to be less. To choose her moment, and path. To be offered control of her own body not just in a social sense, but in a direct, practical sense. Though subduing desire is harder than creating it, if only because desire is itself desirable. It is where pleasure begins. The tools get better, but the problem gets larger. Particularly as the means to manipulate oneself can be applied to others. For their benefit, or one’s own. So, here we come around to the larger picture, and the moment. As woman goes from the victim of a society bound to contest control of her, to one at play in the contest for control of society.

That this will play with all real dynamics of familiar manipulations, seductions, and power disparities. Which are non-linear. The power of men and women in society is not a single spectrum, but a complex manifold. As we disrupt this. As woman gains power over her own reproductive cycle beyond abstinence we see extensions of real world struggles. The purest single sided application of fantasy in this world is that disease is also largely excised from the contest. Not removed (it finds tiny note,) but mitigated to a triviality. What this creates however is a direct conflict with the underlying selection pressures of social sexual control. Key reasons have been removed, but others remain, and so many of the problems that remain exist on the side of men. His need for control, and power. The dangers of male sexual aggression, but as woman is liberated, her own capacity to become the sexual villain grows.

Hoo. So. Here we are.

“I lied, only by omission. Let you believe, what you want to, for you fear the truth.” Mayari strode back into the dark. Etore was still fitful.

The ways in which Mayari is apt to deceive are oft rooted in the idea expressed in ‘The Wizards First Rule,’ that people will believe what they want to believe, or fear to be true. By extension they will also disbelieve what should be obvious. Hide truths from themselves of their own role in things. Mayari pressed upon Wren, we are indirectly told this. She manipulated him, and we are allowed to unwind how we morally feel about this. The high minded modern aesthetic recognizes a wrongness, a more baseline older cultural instinct cringes to directly correlate the inverse. A male entity pressing himself upon a female entity. Even if Wren as he is, is closer to the more feminine archetype, and Mayari however she presents herself, the more masculine. That isn’t all that useful because it still leaves us mired in the wrong construct. In a model built for a binary that is convenient to a social structure, not that represents reality well.

Consent is a low bar, but certainly lacking. The peeper, the watching is a thing. Again a whole complex level of male and female archetypal thinking to unravel that the one watching is a ‘woman.’ Though a woman more dangerous than any man alive in our world, or perhaps almost all in hers.

One has to come around a bit to the third (and ultimately more active) party in the room. Etore, who has been revealed to be the invisible woman she is. How she initially got in trouble with Rihonae was being a youthful peeper upon a woman who in large, had few qualms about being seen naked, or sexual. It doesn’t make anything right, but it is an interesting position to view things from. Wren, is the party most at odds in all of this. The innocent in the mix, not that he hasn’t observed a great many things, but never without the full knowledge of all parties involved. Innocent is a very complex word as you try to unpack it.

This whole scene is written from a position over the line, but we are still left wondering where that low bar was passed, exactly, particularly as things can be framed, or excused. Our modern technological world has left open doors through which things may be seen that we can’t always be sure if they were meant to be.

  • What is happening?
    • A dragon in human guise is playing with mortals to her ends, and amusement.
  • Why?
    • Because she can, because she has larger goals served.
  • How should we feel about it?
    • Conflicted, for we ourselves if not the messiest parts, are peering behind the curtain.
    • Then again, it’s fiction, it’s fantasy.
    • Then again it’s a muddled minefield.

I start the process with a seed. That seed is often very abstract, and even putting it into words belies a web of connections that are hard to put into an order. So I’ll look before the scene, to what transpires to inspire it. Mayari taunting Etore in a leading way as two Queens confront each other on the social battlefield of a court. Chess can be looked at as symbolic of war, but also of court politics. Different players able to move in different ways. A King most mired in their critical role. A Queen his truest right hand. Knights able to move above the station of lower players. Clergy sneaking through in angled ways. Alright the analogy breaks down on rooks, but all the pawns more plainly move straight forward till an opportunity opens to move at an angle, and take advantage. Till they reach a position of promotion. Prove themselves.

If Mayari has set her sites on Etore, she has set her sights on Wren. The contest of their love affair has been out in the open of the narrative for a long time. Man and woman not divest of their history, but in defiance of their bonds to it. Powers in play that a less scrupulous party, one who delights in mischief could use. Etore being the not always responsible party. Prophecy. Dreams. All of this plays out to get us to this scene.

What starts in fantasy I play against hidden realities. How a thing can come to pass. What actors play upon to achieve their ends. How we might feel about it. What changing elements of reality does to morality. I struggle with how I feel about it all. How others may perceive what is so much tamer than things that are out there. (An understatement in want of sense.) I know where I start which is in fantasy, and where I wind up which borders other less pleasant things. Teasing apart all of this comes out in commentary, and commentary is much harder at times to write because I am left in this place between analysis, and framing. The casting of behavior reveals my underlying conflict, and allows me to address with difficulty what a reader might be feeling.

At a high level of process:

  • Seed.
    • Optional: Bullet Points/Scraps
  • Draft.
  • Editing: Does this fit my understanding of the character.
    • How they talk.
    • How they think.
    • What their motivations are.
    • What their conflicts are.
    • Grammar, word choice.
    • Repeat several times.
  • Commentary:
    • What does this say.
    • How is this framed.
    • Again does this fit the characters in play.
    • Final editing falls out of this.
  • Commentary Editing:
    • What does this actually portray.
    • What am I really saying.
    • Does this inform further or future editing.
    • Postmortem (software terminology, what went right, what went wrong.)

There is a struggle between writing characters according to the choices they would, or might make, based on a theory of mind, as opposed to my own moral compass. There is vast room for Karma, or Reaping What is Sown, but also for the understanding that the rain falls upon the virtuous and the villainous. The rich and the poor will know good times, and bad. I will give nudges, but even so I am left to feel interesting things about needles threaded.

«Stop.» Wren growled, as at last he understood. It was still as a whisper. A truth, only for him to hear, that she distracted him from his own errant power. It shattered, and coiled back around him. Stopped grappling with shadows that faded without his light.

It was a strange thought that intruded. Wren’s presence is a dangerous thing, a capacity to manipulate others that he is defiant not to use. With great power, comes the responsibility to not become a tool of others, for a refusal to use it. Mayari toyed with him, but it was Wren’s own power afflicting Etore, and the crafty creature talked around this. Did not claim who was affecting her, that he not notice longer, and leave him all the more disarmed by his fumble.

“Everything,” Mayari answered. “All the everythings that can be. I’m bored with everythings that never were. It starts to lose meaning, but what meaning is there in death? In ends. I seek a new beginning.”

To try to catch Mayari without being too telling is a tricky thing at times. We should see the echo of her through the world, or the world in her. She is a manifestation of a power hungry woman who already has more power than can be imagined. Who has seen things that others cannot dream of, and only wants more. A bored thing that is weary of the same old games. Even this has been before, or so she will claim. Trust her words or don’t you’re still probably getting it wrong.

“You opened the door, with me behind her. Saw me, and chose not to recognize who it was, or that I followed. To be lost in her. She chose the same. Felt me there. Was trying to make a point, forgotten. Closed the door too late. Was not bothered to care that something had followed. So ready to be lost in you.”

I tried to be very subtle, but nod to distraction through the scene of a randy Etore making use of her consort for distraction from her mad life. The motion behind was written very specifically, and refined several times into the desired level of ambiguity.

It’s hard to say though that either scene leads directly to the other, they kind of imply each other in my memory of how it all comes to pass. Mayari’s leading words and manner to Etore. Her history with Rihonae. How she is when she drinks, or lets go of her inhibitions.

Which should be a bit of a call back to Maeren drinking when she is confronting Camron. Trying to make her own, the moment in which she is stuck. There are high minded, moral aesthetics in all of it that trouble me, but I choose to write on. To navigate a middle course of gray areas, because in so many ways that is what the story has come to exist to do. Villains with their own ideas of virtue, and heroes who must struggle with their own flaws, and those of their world.

“I felt her body want mine. Her animal much as it chafes her pride. You wore that resistance down so long ago. The girl, or the boy, both ever so pretty. It spoiled her for most men. I didn’t do what you think. I never have to. Only come where I am wanted. Invited.”

“I didn’t, and I know she didn’t.” Wren was finding some trace of strength again.

Mayari could be seen as a very lizard brain dominant creature, but I think that belies a strange implied empathy. She could be compared to so many other dubious characters we have met, but I’ll choose to compare her to Sasha just now. The description of ’empathy, but no sympathy.’ She knows full well the effect she has on others, and what she can do to, or for them. She is both low minded, and high minded at the same time. The humanity in the middle perhaps a bit lacking. An animal and a god in a dance, an id and a ego run abjectly rampant with each other. An ape on one shoulder, a fallen angel on the other.

“If you choose to forget inviting me, that… is your problem. You always have a choice. Even, if I would… do such a thing, you would still have a choice. To like it — for I would make it ever so pleasant — that you would have to choose to hate on principle.” Her laughter was droll, and mocking.

Mayari is a creature of a certain internally consistent morality. If one re-frames morals as aesthetics. She sees the world through a lens of pleasing, and not. Not right or wrong. Wrong is just an unpleasant feeling to her, and so if it amuses her to do something, she makes it pleasant, and so to her mind this is right.

If others choose to dislike her performance…

Etore eyed her weapons in the corner by Mayari.

Beyond moral considerations, it is a bit strange to write this scene in some more pragmatic ways. Etore is an incredibly adept fighter, but she is caught quite thoroughly beyond with her pants down, and faced with a rare opponent that she takes very seriously. Stepping through shadow at any point is a temptation, but what lies in shadow is perhaps more frightening than the woman who has intruded on her bed chamber. So, they both just sit there, and have this conversation with the woman who has intruded. Who both is, and is not threatening. Having fought life or death battles many times takes a certain edge off a contest with a creature who is all to clearly choosing to use very minimal force. It is clear I suppose Mayari cannot simply take what she wants. It doesn’t mean baser instincts of fight or flight do not appeal for a place.

“Children.” Mayari answered, and turned back towards the bed. “Mortality has a power, but immortality a purpose. It is survival, but I must create roots, woven into the world to be both. Truths made manifest. Futures, with such potential, if we do not fail.”

A load bearing future, I leave myself as a single line of commentary to unfold. Thanks past me, much appreciated. It makes a sort of sense, at least as I have constructed the world. If the future is the past, and influences the past, then the future, and it playing out, that effect is the cause of cause, and the more entwined a thing is with the world, the more enduring, the harder to uproot, if one learns to root both ways. Though what one calls roots in the sky are branches, and what they do is give surface area, to hold leaves, to gather sunlight, to dig deeper into the soil, to grow broader branches… Feedback loops. Sure. I’m glad I can make the analogy make sense without being too telling. Ok, future me, run with it.

“Mayari, a goddess of Thaea. A child of Mother Tree, and the serpent pruning her roots. That they remain healthy, and strong. I am the world she digs into, and the stones she twines with. I am beast and flower, serpent and flying thing.” She laughed with a gleeful smile. “I have done that unforgivable, and that worthy of all forgiveness.” She looked to Etore. “I will pay a fair price.”

Mayari gets her name in my creation of a Death Knight. It was really most incidental, and there is scarcely little there in that, other than what I found in name research, and an appearance I chose. A dark skinned young woman with bright eyes, and pure white hair. Perhaps a certain villainous overtone, and an implication of some kind of immortality.

All else Mayari is was informed far more by the world the character resides in, and the part she plays. A dragonborn who defied the mortality a human form implied. Born old, and forever young. A seer from her earliest imaginings who would twine with the schemes of Osryae. Though an implication can be drawn with the etymology of her name. I think it may be abstracted well, that knowing things, and being a person are utterly different. One may do anything ascribed to the knowledge of a divine origin, but that does not mean one is the hand of a god, only a consequence of. Parents, children, brothers, sisters…

“Maybe this works on your whore, but I’m a Queen, and not even that, a girl from the lanes with ambitions, and reasons. Not a fool, who thinks themselves a god.” Etore sneered deeper, got up, and stood before Mayari.

At last she got defiant enough to stand. Of course to a line at the end of an earlier scene, what is winning or losing. Mayari eggs on constantly, is letting her win action, or inaction? If one is looking for a moral Aesop in all of this I go back to a line somewhere… back there. We don’t choose our moments, we only make them our own. If one has an opponent who can, and does play upon every outcome, one can no longer choose based upon the opponent, but themselves. Simply arriving at this, is the only victory.

“Same thing. It is only understanding, the truth of what you can be. What you are capable of. Anything, but for what you bind yourself to value. The less you value, the more you can be. Do you see gold, and gems, even weapons as what they are?”

Capable of Anything is the title of a song, and a favorite of my wife (got it engraved or label maker-ed it on a few computers/tablets,) and this is on some levels the true message of that song. Capable of Anything is an affirmation, but also a warning.

The relationship of Etore and Wren does get a lot of overtones from my wife and I, though there are hardly any direct parallels, rather very high level spiritual ones. (She oft jokes that I write about her so she’ll read it. As Etore might.) When we got together we were both WoW players. Her main class was a rogue, and her nightly entertainment messing with people (ninjaing flags, and crowd control from stealth) in Arathi Basin (a territory control battleground) at a low level where she had set herself up pretty well with just a little help from coworkers. Her own comment on the archetype of female players picking rogues that many a woman’s natural fantasy is to be invisible to the world.

Her rogue’s name was Kitren (derived from one of her own daydream novel characters she never got around to writing,) and as I worked on fleshing out the names of Kat, Kia, and Kit , she of course chimed in that Kitren is the only proper answer. Which fit perfectly with a hint to Renae. Etore already existed, and (my) Kitren gave way to Wren in the end. Though Kit-ren survived in the form of Wren, with the same meaning to the plot. Another Kiannae (a druid more specialized in shape shifting) was the character I rolled to play with her (stealthy, flexible, healing, durable,) and we moved on into later game content together. Defying fixed role (healer, tank, dps, feh… play a character, not a role!) A real bear of a tank to go with a former ‘twink‘ (a term of art that has so many layers of backwards history.) Layers. Language is so full of layers, and as Shrek once insisted, not like a cake, like an onion.

“Clashing, and thrashing, and leaving the room a wreck, but you’ll only win, if I let you. Just like before. You weren’t ready for the truth then. Not who you were, let alone could be, Princess.”

This is an obscure reference at this point, but Mayari and Etore crossed paths first back in the Osyraen capitol when she was a girl. An event memorialized in the fanciful retelling of her life by an ex, that was covered in Book IV (at least after Book III was split.) Which ended in a burning bed falling from the room above through a hole left in the floor. So at least it was comically implied.

“You freed her, but you misunderstand. I am not a puppet like her, I am only, on my own strings.”

Etore stepped back. “You’re…”

“Brother, father, child. One does lose track. He started the making of your poor Dahlia. You’re just being mean, denying her for that. So petty to deny that sweet girl. She would have loved you ever so earnest, and never challenge. Not any way you didn’t wish, to be challenged. Instead, you’re giving her to that fool woman you call Admiral. She’s… fun, but, no you. Then again, she’s no me. A poor substitute for a real rival.”

The implication has been meant to be there since… well sometime shortly after the Ahashi came into the story. Mayari is the other side a coin. A female mirror of a male presence that slinks through the shadows making pets, and playthings of mortals. A goddess, however you want to frame the word in her pride, or power.

“A bluff, of someone who didn’t have the loins, to handle being true to themself.”

I like this replacement for the gender specific alternatives. It evokes several meanings of strength, of muscles oft pulled in various strenuous activity, and all the sexual overtones of gonads, or what have you without any specificity of gender or sex. Strictly speaking loins is actually a much broader term that can include much of the lower back torso, and so, my, to my own humor, evoke an obscure gaming expression about ‘carrying’ (other’s weight on a team), ‘back not strong enough.’ Analogies are fun.

“Is that a request that I give you one? Hmm? Do you need an excuse, Princess? I offer you everything. Exactly what you want, to want. If you can take it. If you will share. The three of us, together… We could take it back. Spare his sister, and wield it well, and justly, beyond this cycle.”

Mayari plays the role of temptress, not merely as the typical thin game of pleasure, and reward, but with righteousness too. (Looking back to Sylvia’s offer from the Empress mentioned before. See it does all fit together… I assure myself as I ramble.) One is fully permitted to take anything she says as more or less genuine, she absolutely does lie as suits her, but knows that lies have costs, and truths are far more useful.

A corollary to the spider-man parable, is the “Refusal” of the heroes journey, that appears in the tragic failure the story-line returns to with so many reboots. That with great power comes great responsibility, and to refuse great power is to refuse that responsibility. There is value in knowing, and value in not. “The refusal,” a common trope of the proposed ‘Heroes Journey‘ story archetype.

“The thing is, I’m vengeful, not just. You’re barking up the wrong tree, whelp.” Etore pulled the short sword from its scabbard, and stepped back.

“You don’t believe I’m just, any more than I believe you aren’t.”

The first two times we ever meet Etore contain a very complex moral character. A cut-purse who gives some of her ill-gotten gains to a blind beggar boy, and who while stealing drinks to cause frustration to a man she doesn’t like, gets in his way when he tries to take his frustration out on an innocent barmaid. Clocks him as I recall with a bag of coins.

She later shows that while she plays the game of thief, she makes a habit of being sure that her ways do not come down on those with less. Etore punches up, but oh, she punches. She punches down too, but not very hard. A friendly reminder that world isn’t always a nice place, so stay on guard.

Etore struck, thrashed, and thrust. Mayari parried with her bare hands. Let blows glance off shoulders like Etore was swinging a pillow at a hardened soldier.

Mayari made a claim, and Etore decided to test it. Just… vengeful, they are fine lines. A murderous rage enacted with the danger of a frustrated lover taking a pillow to the other’s face, or splashing jam on them with the flick of a spoon. Of course does she know for sure? Or is she just through. A powerful dangerous creature has intruded on her personal space, mocked her, riled her, and made brags that the most deadly force she could bring to bear will have no effect. Frame it how one will I guess, that she puts to the test if she can slay the dragon. Nope.

The blade shattered.

I made this it’s own paragraph because it’s meant to sting, and with editing on the previous paragraph about Etore’s attachment to this weapon, it needed to all the more. If the rapier would have fared better… an open question. There is a duality though to this, and I did not want to undercut a side. There is a moment of panic that Etore would surely feel that needed not to be lost by the contrary, or superficial part of an event.

Shards seemed of no substance. Washed away in a flash of light that tore the thinnest flaws of a dark, hammered surface to dust. Whiffed away into nothing.

The black steel of Etore’s short sword has always an interesting thing. A stylistic commonality of excess iron in a weapon so durable that it can’t be polished away. As covered in Lycia during Book V most mage-iron starts as pig-iron to counter the loss of carbon as it is hammered into fine layers. Which is something I learned in reading up on why it’s such a big deal all the folding done to make the steel in traditional katakana. The choice of black steel though for mage-iron was in origin more aesthetic.

“Yes. I even started the tradition to give mage-iron swords to retired royal guards. Not the old flimsy ornamental ones. Fates… was that two centuries ago?” Mayari laughed. “So easy to hide something more, amidst. Pieces in a puzzle written deeper. Threads found, and tugged upon. I made several like it, to be sure, but always know the one that will find your hand.”

Cut from the dialogue but still likely true; “I made seven like it. Seemed a good number, just enough to be sure the right one didn’t miss. That side by side, they seemed the same, but the right one always found your hand.” Maybe it will find a place.

The seeds of this were planted quite by accident in my own mind. Why a retired guard had this fancy sword, that has proven better than most blades was a fascinating question. There are several answers, and Mayari is to be largely believed here. Doesn’t mean she’s telling the whole truth. Mayari… never.

“Oh, don’t look so broken up about it. One of those ornamental ones, in a lesser shadow of this world existed. It was always… special, because of you. I forged a past, for a future you wrought. We, made this. A blade fitting for a Queen in the rough. A payment for a silence that would be needed. Placed in his hands, only to pass to you. For you to take as a prize.” Mayari smirked. “The child you chose. We can forge more… futures together. All that you might desire.”

The ‘objects’ of great importance that seem to be kicking around the world were implied perhaps to be special only because of who wielded them. There are a number of them, two at least are in that very room.

“Entropy?” Wren interrupted having crawled cautious to the edge of a bed. Unsure the sense in getting any closer. He eyed Etore’s arm, but it seemed intact.

Mayari’s cheek twitched. “Such… a primitive construct, but yes. That will suffice. Change is the only constant of a living world. We may choose within parameters, past and future. Realities that intersect in us. These define, us. What we value, anchors, us.”

Fates if one thing really bugs me, it is how quiet Wren is through this scene, but Kitren was always by description, ‘the quiet one.’ If I were to channel Etore a bit too much, ‘quiet girl, the women are talking.’

Order &… What is the sound of one hand clapping? (My wife insists is tradition when the title appears in the narrative.) Entropy is the name of the story if I’m being short in my head. It’s the name of several folders in which this all lives on google docs, and other places. It starts as a joke, become literal, become metaphor. If Maxwell’s demon is the power of intelligence to tip the scales of the unbeatable arrow of time, then these higher ideas are the thin answer to a contrary force to the singular entropy, which standard physics does not (much as it loves parity of forces) proscribe an antithesis to. So the metaphor can be of spirit and animal. Not a bad reach for a joke originating in linguistic shenanigans over the etymological quirk of Order (an organization made up of people), and entropy (a physics construct that is not quite defined as an opposite of order.) Mayari’s cheek twitch is indeed a very high minded affront to her sensibilities. Almost an authorial comment on what I just did there. Thanks Mayari.

“If we become constant,” Mayari tilted her head. “If we become a rut in the road, a ravine in the mountains. The cause and effect, that guides the world to end, becomes its end. It can only last so long. Banks break. Streams flow. A world turns, as seasons and Suns pass. All beneath an ever more regular moon, but there is change. There is always change, and choice.”

I made a somewhat ‘unorganic’ (irony, given planetary motions are generally not organic) choice with Thaea’s moon, that the calendar so very close to lines up perfect. Imagine if one measured years in moons, and not the sun. The length of days are actually harder to observe than the phases of the moon. One can be concretely observed with no special tools. One would need to learn to count by a constant, but there are no constants. Not really. Your seasons would probably slip… unless they didn’t? Well, you would probably not know any time soon that was odd. Science (mages) presume they are as observers the average case, not the outlier, until otherwise proven wrong. (Which on a level is very unscientific.)

Constants are averages, they are roughly approximated middle points in the flexibility of the ‘fields’ that make up the universe. Space itself one argues. I make this assertion with pretty strong confidence. A constant need only be constant within any range that we would call a Planck constant. Below which any measurement is said to have no meaning. We can’t actually know a constant to be constant, and so it bares no particular sense to assume it actually is.

That is the granularity in which any constant may be considered nonsense. Where the digital thinking of mathematics breaks down, and tries to define something undefinable. What must intercede is philosophy, which will pick from several impossible intuitive seeming things, one that ‘feels right.’ One can for instance, believe in infinity, or not. It’s unknowable, un-observable. It’s a matter of faith if the evidence implies the existence of this, and the very rational argument on the other side is that because it cannot be observed it is not.

There is a truism, that is fairly popular in learned circles, or wittingly observed by the sidelines by those who are done thinking on a topic just then. “The more you know… the more you know you don’t know.”

This is why I am at my core an agnostic. The nature of knowledge is slippery at best. I believe in following the evidence so far as it can take us, but where belief asks us to intrude upon the freedom of others, or even permits a nihilistic freedom to do so, must be taken with caution. I don’t believe in God, but I absolutely believe in the existence of Stories, and their power to shape human history. View these works as long tail literary traditions with immense power. I can believe in the fall of angels, as an allegory that we are left with. The dangers of playing god, but if there was none, someone had to.

“You know why I hate prophets?” Etore demanded, and got half up. Leaned on a weak arm, testing it.

“Why?” Mayari gave a light, curious little laugh.

Etore pushed herself to her feet, a bit unsteady. “It’s how you talk. Not what you know, or the games you play. It’s the way you bloody talk.” She grabbed Mayari by her tattered garment, and kissed her deep. Dug her nails into skin that could not bleed, only feel a twinge.

There was a version of this that goes on, and explains. It’s not the games they play, those are old as time. Deceptions, and trickery, and story craft. Building a lie from the half truths they can live with. It’s not knowing, its the utter ignorance of them knowing so much they know nothing. Seems like an easy trap, hard to fault them. No, it’s that they can’t speak plainly, because it’s become part of their game. If this seems hypocritical, it is, and she is well aware. What’s the trope, we hate most in others… ?

The dragonborn’s face could have been her own wry grin at the door a few hours earlier, when they parted. She could see it so clear from the other side. Ever so tempting.

There are two mental versions of the reaction to all this. A peeper, a woman not a man, because that has a whole other flavor (whether or not it should,) spied on a blissfully unaware couple while they had their fun. Quite, acrobatic. A real show, at least I always imply, cause I’m a tease, and maintaining a certain limitation for his narrative.

The mirror comment is meaningful, but I will caution to think of it more abstractly as I keep trying to imply. On a human level there is a panic, an idea when one sees themselves in another, or a mirror with a life of it’s own. A reflection of things, an alignment in reverse on some topic or another. The figure who could be seen as so much alike. Just on a human level, imagine every time someone like you — a bit too much like you — does a horrible thing, or is portrayed a horrible way, the tole it takes.

Yet, what if one kind of likes what they see… well, that’s a more complicated mater. It should be taken mostly on a very human level, of someone also realizing that — oh yeah, there is probably some nonsense metaphysical component to this all. Psychological things above awareness. There is an ambiguity I neither want to fully deconstruct, or allow to give the wrong impression. It’s more a question. The struggle between a perspective by which different people can be seen as reflections of each other, or reflections of larger forces at work. Culture, biology, intelligence, evolution, divine forces just another thing in the mix of patterns of a world repeating itself.

“You’re almost tolerable.” Etore huffed, breathless, and shoved her away by both shoulders. “If shut up properly.” She shivered. “I’m proud, and I like to fight. So get out. I don’t care the pleasures you can offer. The ‘truths,’ you can tell. I chose mine, and who I am… Who I am, wants you to go.”

I could try and draw all the sexuality in O&E as a metaphor for the embracing, or rejecting of ideas. Learning to cohabit between how much they define, or are a part of who we are. Place an order of preference to what truth settles our choices. I could… but…

Mayari half pouted, pursed her lips and smiled. “Alright princess.” She drew a half satisfied breath, sighed, turned, and walked to the door. “Thanks for not caring if I watched. You two are fun. Maybe someday… I’ll be around.”

The scene should ride a line right between sexy, and creepy. The invoking of sleep paralysis on the opening helps, but is that her doing, or Wren’s. I think back to the caverns in Mordove. The shifting boundary between coercion and force. What I wind up trying to portray is the result of fighting back. If one must fight themselves.

An abject surrender to a power that one cannot win against, where seduction is almost assured, a force that can promise one everything, every temptation of glory, love, pleasure, hope, righteousness, make one a savior of the world, fighting against an enemy of decay that will always win. The smallness of divinity, bound by ones own limitations. What they value. (The solution to the paradox of the all powerful and the immovable object they made. Capable of anything, but what one chooses not to do.)

Where does the line of seduction end. Seduction is the act of inducement to different behavior. Negotiation played less fair. Blackmail, power disparity. Seduction is the act of subtle force, and we have a very strange relationship with it. A love hate relationship.

So, all the sexuality in the story is still too literal for metaphor, or allegory, for how much we struggle with it in society. If the personal pathos of gods cast upon a world, what would it look like? A mortal casting everything in their image, and the image of those around them.

Etore looked to Wren. Grimaced, and glared at a sword where it lay. A blade almost invisible but for how it seemed to cackled within. Gave it a depth, and sense of substance. A shimmer and it went dark once more.

So apparently there are some weird predictions in physics about prisms, mirrors, and waves that carry through even when there is full reflection. Because of my background in 3d, and materials, and faking reality I have a certain awareness of what happens when you show the flaws in the simulation. Make something both fully reflective, and transparent, it becomes luminous. The reflection and refraction must add to each other, ans so sum greater than the input.

Etore pursed her lips. Opened her eyes, again, and the sword rattled an instant. It flung up in a tumble, and she slipped out of the way. Caught the hilt in her hand, and huffed. “Now, that, is what I always wanted.”

No one offs. ‘If the bloody mages can do it…’ she wants. A stolen trait. Like a dire animal, but an inanimate object with a role to play in service of a mortal hand, in the dance of the end of time. If the stones themselves can be made to listen…

Etore had stepped through shadow, and grabbed the lock. Held there a moment in the stillness. Felt potential boiling around, and through her. Though of a moment she had slain a thing of darkness. She looked around to be sure the room was empty. Even up, to be sure she didn’t have one of her own.

I have done a damn lot of PVP in the game WoW. The idea of the contest between rogues and mages is absurd. Rogues are not magical in them selves, but they live in a world of magic, and other powers. There are paladins and their light. There are all these faiths, but the gods are just wizards with better stats. (To borrow the D&D meme.)

Mage-iron is all about emotion. It’s pure will manifest. Shadow is soft spots in time, moving around things. It’s a dangerous art because it toys with the power of desire. It is a place described in places as making one impulsive.

… Sounds like our Etore. She is brash, she is roguish, because she can be, because she can get away with it.

Etore doesn’t need a lot of fancy magic, she turns the lock to mage-iron by infusing it with emotion, as she once did on instinct, or ‘faith.’ There is a belief in a righteous strike that the divine will guide your hand. And it occurs in almost all religions, have some kind of sense of grace.

Grace again, falling within the physics of a world, and making use of the momentum to accomplish a task. Playing max-wells demon. Turning the whole world like butterflies flapping through the fibers of matter. A solution that is not solid enough, swirls away. Focusing power on a lock, makes it no longer as pick-able. Ascribes a purpose to mater.

A lock knew its purpose. Awaited it’s key, and that was her. “Clever dragon.”

This slightly familiar phrase, is meant to incur the realization that one is still being played. Shadow makes one impulsive, because it shows the near infinite potential one has to choose. It is moving fast, on an impulse no second thoughts, deterministic until you learn to make it multivariable. To see how cause lead to effect, regardless of the order.

Locking the door when she hadn’t before in the evening was letting Mayari cast a shadow, and that shadow was a mild annoyance. It was allowing Mayari to be the cause of action. Giving her power.

I’m not always sure how much of this subtext to put in. It’s part of why I do commentary. Not everything has to make it onto the page, but if one were to hope that there be a debate, one can speak ahead to the debate. It’s pure hubris, self indulgent, but I swear it seemed to get me as many likes and followers than the story itself.

Locking the door is letting her win only so much, as saying she’s an annoyance.

The lock clicked. Etore loomed over him with another step. The very air pushed out of her way swirling each of their hair, as she pushed him back over into bed.

I so wonder if there should be a sound as one steps through shadow, its subtle, the air slightly sucked or pushed towards the direction of initial travel, a vacuum collapses, and out on the other side. Like a speedster almost. Traveling infinitely fast, there is a smudge at each end. Yet a lot of energy if I pleased to apply the logic might get eaten up. Motion does, and does not happen. The world just re-arranges with the least expended energy possible. The shock-wave usually canceled, unless perhaps one pleased it wasn’t. Intention.

It is implied by some sections with Katrisha just how soft the world is in shadow. How little it is bound, but by the ideas carried into it.

“She doesn’t get to see all the good stuff.” Etore kissed him hard.

Oh, yes, I am a tease, and terribly self-referential. That we like Mayari do not get to see everything, That what we glimpsed before was Etore being a bit restrained, because she felt something was off. Felt watched, and was ignoring it, would probably dodge or allude a dozen half truths if pressed. That we pull away before all there is to show is action, and a blow by blows of two people making love with super human strength, grace, gifts. Imagine what one will.

VII:19 – Compromise Positions

The fool does bluster of their own ignorance,
as those knowing, set on to tasks so at hand.
By their works you will know those worthy.
In their silence forget the measured man.

For sense should be all but unremarkable,
known in deed, with no need, to be heard.

– The High Book, Lamentations

Compromise Positions

Jovan 34th, 1 S.R.

Everything was warm, and soft. Held surer than iron wrapped in fine velvet. Everything terrible in a world could not enter, even should it seem it was already there. A softness offering comfort, against something harsh beneath.

Fingers twined through hair clutched a head close to a bosom. Toyed, and traced a scalp, another hand down, tangled in hair on another head. Held it to a back. Breath there on skin, slow, and sleeping. A third hand on a hip, a distant echo of something not unfamiliar, but tinged. Fingers meshed there. A face pressed tight to a mid back shifted, and another breath on her skin reminded her of a silly thing.

It was almost like she was beside it all. Could sit there, and watch herself relish surrender. See something beautiful, and strange in the monster. A woman with such a look of relish on her own face. Smiled like having taken a bite of a delicious meal. It fizzled, like a shadow cast over a thought. A heart trembled. She clutched his hand. Felt him there, curled behind her, unsure. He squeezed, and again let out a breath on her skin.

A woman remembered that silly thing again. So easy to forget, that she needed to breathe.

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Commentary VII:18

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Instinctive Dances

The symbolisms of serpents is an interesting topic. Because ironically a western tradition coming out of a middle eastern one, can have it well enough on the mark, but be in a minority. Venomous snakes are the main reason for trouble, for the slithering reptile. They represent a sudden and deadly threat with little provocation. The snake is not evil, just woefully protective. Bite first, ask questions later, or never, it’s a snake.

Conversely snakes are predators of opportunity. Many less deadly varieties will eat a bird’s eggs right out of a nest. Hardly the only animal to do so, but ever so sneaky, and slithery. As opposed to some larger mammals who will gladly do the same, and shoo a bird off as they claim a prize of useful protein. Constrictors conversely strangle, and crush. There are other strange diets of serpents in myth though that may bear relevance at some point soon.

The character Mayari was always a dragonborn, and I’ve mentioned before, old to the world. The idea of shadow dragons is owed to the advent of incidents in Lycia. These then have become a staple of something lurking in the dark, and such as we see them somewhere between amorphous, and a more eastern design. Wings are the comical adaptation of something beholden to physics. Mayari was always by intent very much of a sympathetic, crafty, and deeply dubious force, and though this all aptly winds up drawing on that western iconography of a ‘dragon who lies,’ (she was very much on my mind in the writing of that line of the prophecy in Book I) she’s more apt to tell the truth, relying on others mistrust to mislead them.

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VII:18 – As Serpents Twine

The bird did call, see me, see me,
and serpent did, so slithered quietly,
there found unguarded on high bough,
what soaring left behind, so far below,

there gobbled each, and every one,
one made immortal, a line undone,
so sired, not laid were seeds of man,
that sparked of Rhan, began again.

– Songs of the Sun

As Serpents Twine

Jovan 34th, 1 S.R.

“Did you really think this was going to be easy?” Samantha was lounged back against Sasha’s shoulder in a deep comfy couch. A bowl of grapes and other assorted fruits sat in her lap.

Katrisha looked up from rubbing her forehead, and ignoring the marvelous view of a city below. It was a bit too warm for her tastes, even as a light snow fell just beyond a thin curtain of air. It parted around fingertips, and rippled more in refracted light than subtle enchantment.

“Easy, no. It’s never easy, but usually quick.” Katrisha’s other hand drummed at the table.

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Commentary VII:17

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Dubious Contrition

This… was a chapter. Lets start light, as it did, with visions, portents, and arguments with dragons. A poem, a song, or two. Not that I’m sure how to explain the epigraph without being too telling. It is a conflation of several myths from the so called ‘Sunless Age’ that appears in some oral traditions. That after the True Sun fell there was ‘a thousand years’ of darkness. The figures of this age are very inconsistent where it appears, but a witch (sometimes Thae) is common. She is conflated also with others. One of the more well known tales of this figure is that of the Hunter and the Witch. In all versions the hunter is humbled in some way to earn the unwinnable woman’s favor, and conceives by her a child. In this particular version the hunter (or fisher) is made to chase her across the Great River delta for Days (or Suns depending on the telling,) and only when he is all but defeated, does she come to him.

There are a dozen things that go into this, and many other versions more or less salacious, only the least relevant to the moment. One of how a great wild priestess, and her flock humbled a band of hunters, who had done in number what no one could have alone. That for this they would have their prize as they won it, and none would ever be sure of the fathers. Even if each would be born with markings that might tell, or mislead. That they would raise these as so shown, is one obscure version of the birth of Rhaea. Though sometimes she in her wild rebellion in the Summer Lands was she. All of which is meant to echo how muddled old myths are. Appropriated, and conflated over generations to serve new purposes. Gods winding up their own fathers, and other divine mysteries.

As it were, some aspects of this, small details are inspired by lyrics from a song (‘take me down to the river, underneath the blood red sun, say my name like a scripture, keep my heart beating like a drum.’) This over time has evoked for me several versions of the world of Thaea during the great fall. Enduring distant ‘shadows’ in which either the sky is cast in fire, or the world was dark, and the colors of a proper sunset were a new and spectacular phenomena (for before the True Sun shone over all… in part of the world.)

The title is in an odd joke on the origin of the word subtle. Subtilis which can literally be translated as under weave. The Subtle Web was the first pass, but I liked better the synergy with the hidden weaving in the latter part. Besides, I’d just gotten through watching Season 2 of His Dark Materials, and I believe the book the season is based on was called The Subtle Knife, and I desired just the least separation.

She needed not eyes to see, but sight held such power in beauty. Bright trails of light swirled over fields of grain, and the spotted luminous tracks of fungi under foot. Fluttering things moved through it all. Smaller granules of living dust whorled about. Caught up on eddies of wind, and in wings most light. Tiny moths wove with wisps, and fireflies darted through. Added orange embers to a dance of cooler hues.

What once was a dark-fire raging across the landscape has mutated into a thing of light, and strange beauty. This is not quite the same dire fungus that once threatened to consume everything in its path, but an offspring countless generations removed, that has adapted to the changes in the worlds energies. One we’ve seen a ‘relative’ of a thousand miles away unconnected.

I will admit the present strong influence of Shadowlands on the vision of the fields around Blightsbane. Though as all things WoW it borrows everything it is from older sources. It inspires me to return to elements of Book IV, in the deep caverns of the Drifts. The work of Estae, the dormant mushrooms on Kiannae’s staff. Things more influenced by earlier encounters with strange fungal ecology, through many worlds and stories.

No mushroom forest here, but they are a common fantasy trope I’ve been drawn to since I was a child. Long before some of the more memorable examples re-enforced such ideas in RPGs. If anything Mario is probably the oldest source to blame. Glow in the dark artwork. So many influences. I do not deny though, these exact descriptions would not occur without a present influence in my life, though unlike the pure untouched wilds of some fae realm, here we see mortals as the tenders in a garden of night below a great tree. So many things fell in to place. A child of the world tree, the glowing fungus, some hints of spiders, that were nudged to come together in a familiar vision.

We see the pastoral and portal fantasy blending into one another. Shifting, and changing. No longer neighbors, but cohabitants whether they like it or not. The spiders seem less than pleased.

A huge hairy insect with dark glassy eyes was somehow cute against all sense. It seemed to notice Katrisha. The world returned to motion. A startled thing flapped hard, and roiled the air streams all the more around it. Whorled them like oil on the surface of water cast in rainbows, fading in knots far less flat than such analogue.

This is only a few times bigger than a moth I once encountered myself, and remain without much explanation for. Bigger than my hand spread out it had gotten half way stuck between the screen, and slanted windows of my bedroom. A good ten twenty times the size of any moth I’ve ever again seen in my state. It had sounded like a bird flapping about in there till it got out. Though the description is meant to be without much specificity something like the ever beloved and sometimes mythical poodle-moth. Though some other contenders might be found, real or otherwise.

There were some utterly giant spiders in that window box too, feeding on smaller moths led astray by my room light as I was always a night owl. Though I’ve never been able to account for one I vacuumed up as a small that made an industrial vacuum whine like it was clogged for several seconds, and looked most like a black widow several sizes too large. Though elaborate medication induced hallucination is not off the table.

Samantha jumped back seeing the giant insect with no warning, caught in a wash of faint foxfire. “Oh Fates!” She caught her heart. “Oh, ok, maybe not birds the spiders are eating?” She huffed several times, and watched as the moth fluttered up. Wings then alight even against a glowing sky.

It bothers me a bit that Samantha hasn’t seen or heard of one of these giant moths yet, but I accept that as just chance. It makes for a pleasant narrative device. She’s been coming and going. They are less remarkable than the spiders, and only help explain their role in the ecology.

“Figured what out. You’re missing everything with your eyes closed half the time.” Samantha protested. “Did you even see that?”

Damn kids and their cellphones! Missing everything while recording it all! Hanging on with more than frail fading memory. You think the older generation would actually appreciate that as age eats away. Though I swear past generations did seem to have stronger recollections that I can name many. If anyone has ever noticed that scent makes only the rare appearance in my prose, it’s because I spent a lot of my life avoiding smelling things. So perhaps it’s no wonder I don’t relate to the truism that scent is the strongest tie to memory. For me it’s always been structure. Which isn’t even a sense, only a sensibility. Sound then. I’ve oft been able to recognize songs by the ‘silence’ before, let alone the opening notes. Weirdly I’ve never been all that good at music.

“I’m seeing everything.” Katrisha had such a wistful smile. She grabbed Samantha’s hand without looking. Pointed with her staff. “Laeune,  the learned long conjectured moths chase. That in the night mistake our lanterns for her light. The moth so likened to myths of the bird chasing the sun, for an open flames bitter end. I see it. What dire things have done. How quick they move. These little… ones.” She restrained laughter at a rhyme.

She is in a prophetic frame of mind, which brings out the rhyme, or perhaps it is just a poetry that fell out. As such happens. Samantha has good reason to be concerned.

Katrisha let go of the staff, and it all got a bit less clear. Vision fuzzed, as eyes opened. She adjusted her spectacles in vain, threw them off, and ran a finger along a brow and eyelid. Haunted by visions. A symbol. A rune in a spell given meaning. She withdrew her hand, grabbed the staff, again, and it was clear all around. She could see Samantha’s concern without turning her head.

Yes that thing that’s meant to be a detail on the cover is slowly intruding in. The image was long clear in my head, as was the reason, though from a point of execution it was I think almost meant to be symbolic, and not literal for the longest time. Which was really quite silly given some of the underlying logic that has built up over the years.

“The moths,” Katrisha said. “Big or small. The spores of the fungus are what are luminous. They outshine the moon, and the morning light to draw the moths. The wind carries them up too. They don’t need the moths exactly, but they can hitch a ride higher.”

The mushrooms have found a place in balance, and supporting to an ecology. Even as humans are farming the land they comfortably grow between. Someone perhaps has nudged something far out of balance into it, set it upright with a good hard shove.

“Yes. The moths are drawn to each other by glow as well. Just like the fireflies, without having to do it themselves.” Katrisha pursed her lips. “I think you were half-right, before. I just… know it, but the spiders are farming the fungus. No interest in it themselves, to attract the moths. The caterpillars eat the dry caps, and leaves. Are less interesting I imagine. I don’t know, maybe the young eat them.”

Dire creatures it has always been intended are evolution in a rapid, self directed, even prescient manner. Mutations happen, but adaptations also without so much random element. Guided in the way the course of a river is. A niche available filled, or a new one made, sometimes ahead of the need. Fighting the next war, and the last. Responding to injury, and being stronger and more able to what lays ahead. Going astray though, becoming frightful makes them targets. Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy.

A view turned south, and a world, and time slipped back by. A burning ring, dancing with a silver arc that turned black in spots they crossed the sky. Epochs of time seen not blurring by so much as all at once. The stars themselves a pattern, a web as planets joined the dance, and only a window overhead.

The course of the moon, and sun across days and nights all blended together thousands of years seen not so much in fast motion but all at once. Something I looked up to see if I could find what it might look like as I wrote commentary, at least the stars.

The scene then closes with foreshadowing of a moment we have not reached yet. A scene from a later chapter in abstract divested from what falls in between.

There is a song I stumbled across by the magic of music service algorithms that has found it’s way on heavy rotation for various causes in the story. I do not recommend looking too deep at what inspired it’s writing (the show that inspired this ‘fan song’ was quite gratuitously grotesque,) but it applies oddly well to many things beyond. It’s almost made it into several commentaries, so I’m going to stick it here between sections.

I was tempted to put a trigger warning on this story section, and perhaps stopped only by a complete indecision of how it should be phrased. Violence, and force are minimal, but abject and bald faced coercion runs deep, and insidious through out. Consent is not even a question here, except for how those with no power try to work with what they must. It is a scene for which I have strong conflicting feelings.

I wish that I could be wholly unapologetic, or to the contrary offer some sound contrition. I find myself in a position to do neither. The trouble of writing a sociopath is that one is writing a character with empathy, that has been subjugated to other imperatives. There is struggle to pull apart ones own empathy, in understanding their actions. It can be as muddled as their own perception of themself.

In Camron I find myself both in the position of the sympathy for the ascendant unapologetic woman of power, and the horror of her spite, and voracious hunger for more. A woman who is in her own mind both the hero, and another monster of her story, for she has embraced what she has been taught. That might, and the will to use it, make right. A view of herself and others as only thinly separated from animals. A permission as much to do as she must, as to act as she will.

The woman behind him stood calm, and demure. Not the least incensed, if nervous. Disappointing, and yet what Camron could not have even hoped for, interesting.

I can’t help but think of Zod’s near silent female accomplice as I write Camron. There is an aptness to the general comparison of a race of supermen on a march of conquest through the world. That no mater how superior, they seek signs of submission. Perhaps it is very much Zod’s infamous command to kneel that brings it all to mind so. Perhaps it was some subconscious understanding of what I was not aware of till reading up on her. A misandry bordering on abject misanthropy.

My view of Osyraen society is that of one that learned the wrong lesson from the start. Not merely that might makes right, but that honor is a thin pretense by which one maintains order. Most meaningful only in the middle tiers, those who have some mixture of something to gain, and lose. They prefer a direct victory, but they draw ‘less arbitrary’ lines in the sand as to where cleverness may be applied. Deceit is an art of war. Magic a subtle art, not one of brute strength. One requiring intelligence, not just gifted might. Power and how you use it.

Maeren turned, and rifled through bottles. “Yes it was, my General. A servant asked a superior, freshly arrived, if she wished a drink. One who is… it is quite clear, tense. I showed no grave reaction, to the humility of a subject. To be expected. I’ve seen it before anyway. Prearranged. You see a servant, who knows how to act the role of a Lady. A man, who knows how to act the role of a servant, asked what will be.”

“You know what will be?” Camron straightened, pulling her fingers from a man’s chin.

I will go back to Osir himself. Quite a bit of digression, but it offers a context that has little entered onto the page canonically.

Osir was a man deprived of power, when he was more gifted than most around him. Most men who did attain some vestige, who would be placed above him by virtue of their birth to members of a privileged class. The system was rigged. Men, most men, were warriors, and hunters. They held back other tribes, ablative armor, and strong arms at the will of the shamans. Amongst whom were few men. For few had enough gift for the practices. He, had enough gift, more than enough, but was recognized by the matriarchs as contentious. To train him, to let him live his potential would create a rival, and a disruption. So, he was consigned to the warrior cast. He was however not only a gifted man, but highly intelligent.

There was another path. The Maji were outsiders, the keepers of great secrets, who lived outside the tribes, and their internal politics. They braved the deadly wilds, mediated peaces after wars or battles, but forswore a direct place within any tribe. Their numbers were dwindling in the days of Osir. Two who had joined their ranks brought a new cleverness. The thing that would become known as magic. Osir joined the Maji, though they almost rejected him, for they saw in him too much ambition, and spite for the tribal order.

Camron stepped over, and her presence was warm as Adrien had described. A warmth that made skin ache for touch. Not unfamiliar. She eyed Maeren up, and down, and pushed the offered glass to the woman’s own lips.

Poison is a rare option in Osyraen society, but it happens. A thing they view as truly underhanded, and beneath those of any importance. A means of last resort for the desperate. All the more one could read this as, “You want me drunk? You first.”

The Maji themselves divided over the practice that would become magic, accepted Osir into the ranks of those who embraced the fledgling practice. Another defender of the cause of avoiding any collapse of society through recurring conflict, and ambition. They accepted a viper, who further divided them.

Magic, in spite of his advanced age Osir mastered. At least so well as many who picked this new art up late, that proved best learned young with time. Turned it upon his former tribe, subjugating the Shamans who laid him low. That he in his own mind justified, that he would fulfill the true purpose of the Maji. Conquer all the tribes. His true title Maji Koning, a maji above kin. A war to end all wars, with him at the top. He did not do this alone, and though he took many ‘wives,’ he had one equal in his ‘great task.’ A woman who is oft lost to history. A moon-child (albino) maji, who preferred to remain in the shadows, both literally, and figuratively. Who wore cloaks to conceal herself from the sun, and preferred the night. Her name was Yune, though it is recorded that even then, this was as the namesake of a woman of myth. Only later historians sometimes bicker if she was the origin of the name through the world.

I offer this all as the backdrop of Osyraen history, and the woman Camron is. Though if she sees herself more in Osir himself, or the woman behind is less clear. How well she knows her myths, or by osmosis might have some such notion, if any. It is a lens through which I see her. Osyraens believe that they are a master race, specifically that their gifted are. Much as Osir himself is recored to have distanced himself from Sun myth, this did not last. His descendants embraced an iconography. They have bred near so much as Clarions have for a gifted populace, but they consider Clarion ideas misguided folly. That ascension is a wisp-story for ignorant children.

Near as much they see the pacifism of most Lycians as week, and foolish. If more useful in those who will not contest them. The rest of what the faith has to say they find amenable. That people are animals, that desire is life. This society from it’s inception embraced conquest. Power, and how you use it. The underhanded, clever, and scheming have a place. Arrogance is also a weakness to be exploited, even if an appearance of pride is preferred. They have very limited concept of cheating, except as a thing worthy of comeuppance. It is not only if one gets caught, but cannot turn cleverness into a source of pride, and accolade. After all, one offers tribute to the more agile fighter, not only the strongest. That skill is to be rewarded, even above raw power. They value intelligence, awareness, not just gift. After all, magic is a clever art, not a brutish one.

Maeren curtsied, and the urge to fall to her knees made her unsteady. “That I am but a humble vassal, who has played a role, asked. Ask…” Her heart trembled, and breath caught as an influence sunk in, and knotted her stomach. “…what role you will. It is mine to play. The… Kingdom… the land…” Fear was pale but present, pushed back riding stronger emotions pressed upon her. “Is yours. Surely… All that is in it, is yours.”

It is a dubious choice in itself what I have undertaken. The role Maeren has opted to play, with only worse options. To aim for courtesan, not slave. Muddled, and dark, and so painfully true to human history. How the subjugated have walked fine lines, and worked with what they had to. Maeren is a woman of Red sensibilities, who can embrace working with what she must, with less horror that a woman who’s worth is tied up in propriety. In a pride of purity she does not labor under. Not monogamous, and drawn to (kinder) power. Who could have been more easily seduced, and is left to mitigate what is pressed upon her, if she can. Which is dangerous at best. It skirts a thin line.

Had I never started the Broken Hill thread, we would not be here. It felt too disingenuous to have our eyes only on distant figures, far from a land under conquest. Characters that our main protagonists care about, in tenuous peril, and how they survive. As so much they must endure is rehash upon rehash of circumstances they wish to fight. I could have not introduced this woman, and with male a General managing affairs on a human scale, been all the more uncomfortable, and stayed my hand. Implied more, written less. For worse I think, what would have happened.

Instead we have Camron, a beast of all the familiar domineering flaws of narcissistic lords, and the soft edges of a woman. If honed a bit sharp. With the conflicted agitation of a sociopath wearing the thin veneer of those more naturally inclined, that rise to power when power for it’s own sake a virtue of society. Our fiction is full of these power fantasies, of the wilting of the vulnerable to the ‘desirable’ trait of dominance, and power. The itch, that the implications of gift that are portrayed making this ‘real.’ For those willing to warp others. Drug them with their very presence, and turn a body against a mind.

I find myself struggling between the loathsome aspects of a character, the fantasies rife in popular culture, and the ‘realities’ portrayed. Between being an apologist in my own mind for a woman who lives without true peers. For whom the choice has always been between those abjectly beneath her, laid low, or those who will contest her, and try to diminish her.

Cut from Maeren’s dialogue was the following:

…an Emperor will be crowned, and something higher than Generals, and Dukes, needed. Who know, how humble they are. All of worth, move up in the new order of this world. Well-placed to do so. Stewards, and their humbled servants.

I never set out to arrive here, but step by step I followed a course formed by accepting the folly of humans wielding power, and ambition. Etched reminders of the crimes of men, so foolishly thought above women. The thin pretext that some suffer lesser evils than fall prey to a hungering pack. A thing that dances unnervingly with the predatory nature it portrays, that in just the right context can be desired. That borders fantasy, and horrific reality, in the context of a world where powers can subvert instinct.

It’s easy to cast it in the simplest, most antiseptic light. Pack behavior of animals. A new alpha asserting dominance. It is easy to become mired in the paradoxes of human sexuality, and social norms. To write a creature most monstrous, and yet oddly sympathetic. If because in our prejudice we minimize the coercion of a woman, because she is a woman, or if because we employ some manner of fantasy to it all. Conversely to see her as worse, for failing to be as we expect a woman to be. As Maeren herself is left to negotiate. She can be a pawn in others schemes, or she can use what leverage, and position she has — make nothing, work for her — when she has no one to save her form the worst implications, but to fall with grace. To take one step forward, after the other.

Camron is a living threat. That is her reality. She has little concept of true consent, only submission, or dominion. Most often her own, she doesn’t pick contests she does not imagine she can win. Not to portray her as a victim, she has more often proven a victor. This is not to represent Osyraen society as a whole, but the nature of their highest echelons of power, and the darkest corners. Under, and over lords. She has seen other things, but would struggle to frame them. Perhaps most notable was she saw the ‘foolish’ love of a young prince for a foreign woman not tangled in the webs of Osyraen royalty. She displeased her, or felt that she should, as implied in prior scenes.

I struggles to portray not a victim, or a villain, but one complicit in the wrongs she sees. She sees them as the truth of the world. One must understand her in the context that she exists, and yet still judge her for her actions. A woman of spectacular rank, in a society dominated by power hungry men, and the rare woman who manages to rise amongst them. Who has learned almost everything she knows from these. (A cut line of her dialogue in a prior week, that was too self-aware and referential, that she learned it from watching men.) If one please they could draw analogies to women who rise in the world of big business. Oft portrayed as cold, fierce, and domineering for behaving half so cut throat as men. Or who must be twice such, to earn their fear.

The sickly adoration that arises in those attracted to women, to objectify or demean in some vacuum of comparison to their peers. I cringe to find where the line is, and watch as my characters obliterate it before me. I know it’s there, I know it’s crossed, and danced across. Moved, shifted, for better or worse.

“The thin pretense of the Council, and Kings. Long before another Court Mage would tell me so.” She poured for Camron. “That there was nothing that could be said, of the thin pretense, of Consort, and King.”

“There is no pretext here.” Camron raised her glass, and sipped again. “You know the line well, where it is walked, or stepped over.”

I struggle so because I view the art of writing as not merely a vehicle of entertainment, but of conveying ideas, or at least asking questions. The latter is all I can hope for as I follow a world to it’s natural conclusion. A lost Aesop is often an admission that a simplistic allegory may fail when confronted with reason. That love, and righteousness, that all that is good will not always triumph, at least not on the face of things.

I write, as has played out in many contexts, from a deeply vested place of moral ambiguity with human sexuality. How we return time, and again, to the same mires, slippery slopes, and battlefields that we never left. That we were born upon unknowing. Have always lived with, and only might learn to see. I try, as I choose to portray things, to walk my own thin line. To confront seduction, and coercion. Power and prejudice with a hand that understands, there are these things clawing at us. That the roots of so much of what lives in our desires, and fantasies, the darkness, and the light, that struggles to shine where it is buried. That so much is ugly, even if flowers bloom. That roses have thorns for reasons. Something notable in Osyraen culture from some of the earliest inceptions. They bred their roses to have the most exceptional of thorns. That they found the thorns themselves part of the beauty, not an exception to it.

“If you are, in woeful want of a challenge, and entertainment. Are you not more than capable of managing two, so ungifted? To make of us… whatever it please you, for us to be? Your victory is sure. Is it not? We have surrendered. A husband forswore all his rights, and claims. All basis upon which he could own… anything.”

Though the Council does enshrine the general premise of marriage contracts the laws in essence do still come down to those of Kings. (Still true in our world. Who can marry, when, or where is jurisdictional. How such rights transfer. Even a ‘patchwork’ in some larger countries, ‘until recently’ as recognized as such.) It’s a thin premise, but if a royal line surrenders without precondition, gives over their lands, and holdings, and all that are based upon them…

This is actually a very knowing, but ever so slightly ignorant thing Maeren does here. A certain noble woman of Osyrae once bore a child by the son of a diplomat. Nothing at all untoward, except that marriage resulted that neither party was truly happy about, enforced by schemes of all parties. Moves to inch a family closer to an heir presumptive, who was courting the daughter of said diplomat. Then the Osyraen Civil war happened, a Mad King was deposed, a father died, and a woman began the process of freeing herself. Her daughter was shoved off on the young father, and returned to Avrale. Yes, all of this is oddly important.

“There will always be an order to this world, so long as there are men in it.” Camron walked from Adrien, and circled Maeren. She took her chin from behind, and fixed her gaze on her husband. “Do you think your sweet… stewardson, is any different? Hmm. Your words all but admit, he is as greedy as any man. That he is humbled only by what he is unable to take. Must pay for, if in kind. His need for dominion, becomes his own surrender. Men, need to stand above those laid low, or they are laid low. That he married a servant… and yet the things you say… intrigue me.”

A few weeks ago when this scene first started to unfold for me as an author, as I was running lines through my head this became the recurring theme. “There will always be an order to this world, so long as there are men in it.” This has become very quintessential to the world view I would ascribe to Camron, or at least the one she would portray, in the right context. This context. Maeren has done what she set out to at this point, if not precisely as she understood it. She made herself interesting. Not just a pawn in a conquerors game, but something that could be more, or at least valued, as entertaining.

That’s the whole plan. That’s the only plan either of them had. Survival is having value in the eyes of the lords who would rule a world. The history of marriage does not begin with the contract of law, it begins with the contract of society. In which those vulnerable ingratiate themselves to those dominant, to find each other useful. There are chickens and eggs all over that one could argue to no end, but the result is what it is. Alphas, and pack behavior, gives way to social order, and compromise. Women spend eons as more property than people, some step above cattle if they are lucky, or determined. I do ascribe to the philosophy that here begins the basis of all slavery. That whatever came before, after, or during, that this is the model of human society that allowed for the owning of people.

“I have found…” Maeren steadied herself, and drank. “That it is not who you stand above, but who you stand below. For if one serves them well, they might come to ask one… follow.”

“You think that could be you?” Camron gave Maeren a weathering glare as she stepped around her.

Maeren is playing a dangerous game, but does not know the half of what she does. She is trying to say one thing, and another falls out, time, and again.

“What is this?” Camron fingers pulled from skin to the slightest sound of protest from the woman. She hesitated, and brushed back hair lain over the side of the young woman’s face. Hung short of covering the eye, a style had persisted.

Things trickled down, and intrude. A scar never perfectly healed. It started as a sign of the cold indifference of gifted who could repair it. A culture clash. It became a symbol of a girl’s kindness, and rooted in the truth of the world. It became a mark of divine providence, and those who would stand before the sun. A thing that looks like a mage-iron scar, but is not. Is only rooted in how it would end.

All of which I slammed head first into. There isn’t a plan, only plots, and they collide.

The Red Sisterhood gave us many things that I did not set out to write.
The Red Rebellion was an offshoot of natural extensions to what was established.
Something deeper than simple greed, or ambition for ‘minor’ villains.
Estae placed as a mirror, a cause, and a consequence.
The Red Witch an out growth.
The Ahashi, the Assassins, trickling consequences of explanations.
Of applying what seemed plausible in the wrong hands.
The Weaving the upheaval of giving gift to the giftless.
This scene smacks head long into one imperative colliding with the unexpected.
A scar that appears (falsely) to be the work of mage-iron.

The change in manner only deepened the suspicion on Camron’s face. “It was done with mage-iron? Who did this? Where you scarred by Clarions, girl?”

She knows about what is happening in the east, and if she has the least qualms with the cruelties of her own society, they pale to her feelings on the abuses of Clarions. There are mixed implications around Clarion scarring. All forms of the practice are a horrific, rare aberration, but growing anew, and in previlence. Camron’s distaste, often subtle choices in how she portrays her feelings about what men will do, is meant to belie an underlying conflict. She is meant to be a problematic, conflicting character. Full of rage, vindictive, but sometimes hates the right things, for some vestige of the right reason. Whatever actions fall out of it.

The General circled the room, looking at this and that. Pushed books over where leaned on shelves. Fingers drumming an agitated rhythm. As this calmed, she continued. Ran fingers over papers on desks, and flipped open a book. Thumbed more languid through the pages. Eyes not really on it. “Your… former Court Mage. The one running around with my… cousin?” Her voice fell to a visceral rumble.

Maeren’s scar began as what it was portrayed as in Book II. An accident. That gave way during later books to the nature of her position in the narrative of the world. I do not think it could ever quite find a place on the page, so I will tip the rest of the hand on the point. A scar got a common servant a place beside one who would upend time. It became rooted in the world. The stove was just a stove. It never did more than be hot metal, but the scar itself, unbeknownst to anyone in this room, became a thing onto itself. A ripple of causality. It appears to be the work of mage-iron because it has the properties of such, but they are intrinsic to the wound, not the implement that caused it. To the healing, not the causing. It existed, in a very backwards way, for a girl to repair, and fall in love with the woman who bore it. There was some world in which it was nothing more, or less, and then it became more, not less.

This is a very backwards application of the principle ascribed in some circles of narrative construction that magic should cause problems (more, or as much) as it solves them. Just like any force of nature, or tool in human hands. The endeavor of the principle at it’s root is to avoid dues ex mechina solutions, but the deeper value is the understanding of properly applied phlebotnium. That any tool can be used in many ways not first intended. That the engines of star-ships are indistinguishable from weapons of mass destruction. That drugs have side effects. Good intentions can have bad out comes, and visa versa. That technology creates pollution, and can help us solve it.

Maeren is foiled that the evidence appears not to meet the facts. A learned mage is asked to accept details that simply do not add up to her understanding. A common burn is not so hard to heal. A woman of renown to have reached her ears could not have fumbled the process so. The sheer incompetence to have introduced an effect like mage-iron while healing something so simple, is not impossible, only wildly implausible.

To tip the hand again in showing the creative process Camron began entirely as an incidental. I knew she would be more, but she was a whim. A choice to insert a strong female presence in an invading army, one competent and powerful enough to just barely hold the leash of her male peers. A subconscious choice at the time. Pure social power, not a direct hierarchical position. That remains true. A role she will play out, even a she is herself problematic.

This begs many answers to who she is though. I’ve come to several key conclusions that will continue to trickle in. She reveals here, that Etore would be a cousin. Not a description she seems keen on. Not surprising given her attitude over the mother.

A woman almost toppled over. Was caught with a hand at her shoulder, and pushed upright, like a piece of unsteady furniture.

This is meant a bit to be almost Maeren seeing herself through the eyes of the woman’s manner. The perspective of how casual, and impersonal this moment of ‘care’ is. That it does not please the general she tip over. That the a near miss of it is sufficient, over the inconvenience. That the aesthetic would be ruined by her sudden failure. A prop fallen spoiling the scene.

“I begin to wonder about the dragon I saw laid low.” Camron’s expression was touched with an odd relish. “Humbled beneath my King’s claw, from so far away. Yet, I begin to wonder if the stories are true of the Stormchild. Prophecy, and Fate. If a King all these years stayed his hand for reasons he would be far too humbled to say. How long has that girl been gone? A mere girl… ‘a gnat.’” She bit her lip. “That was all I ever heard of. ‘A gnat,’ he had been heard to mutter many times by servants. Never a context, but all swore it was so.”

From Book I, it was always intended, but never once clear to anyone on the ground in Avrale, or the wider world. How Osyrae seemed to spoil for war. To push, and prod, and try to provoke action, but never attacked openly. Never pushed their vast superiority. There were other reasons, other explanations, all factors. There was the treaty. The threat of the Avatar, Roshana, the other flights. Taking Avrale would have been a trite victory from the start. A useful first step on a road form which they could not turn back. Unless the nation could be made itself to break treaty against it’s interest. Other powers to break the truce as well. To weaken any authority the Council might have. To learn from how the Empire grew. The first surender was still a mild surprise, however much it made sense.

All the political manipulation was meant to provide Osyrae with an opponent they could ‘rightly’ crush. Back to Book I, and purely hypothetical dinner conversation around the East Pass. If Avrale was seen as an aggressor in a conflict with Helm, they could lose lands in theory they held, to the victim of their presumed aggression. If Avrale ever retaliated without the backing of the Council for any action taken by ‘bandits’ the ascribed to Osyrae but could never prove. Then if the Council was too week to rally a war of their subordinate nation states, they might concede the small victory. This was all implied in subtext, but never blatantly spelled out.

Part of this speculated on, and perhaps could have been made more clear, but why… well there was another reason, as Cadith implied in Book III. ‘A gnat.’

“Do you not imagine, they have more perspective than you? Do you not imagine, you have more perspective than us, humble… mortals… I… I know not what I say.”

“You wish to flatter me?” Camron smirked.

The implication of mortals here is the smallest exaggeration from common expression. Servant was considered, but the implication then that Carmon is a god before her is some mixture of flattery and fact. It bares only the least practical hallmarks of exaggeration. Her capacity for pure destructive force exceeds Maerens by an order of… thousands? I’m not even sure, and Maeren certainly isn’t. She’s mostly just a mortal woman, never even thrown a bit of pottery in a fit of rage. Give her a light mage-iron sword, and she might be able to clumsily swing it. Camron could flick her across the room with barely a care, and with the slightest bit of effort turn that room into a smoldering hole in the castle, while protecting herself form the debris or collapse with ease. The fact that she can die, that she would eventually age, far slower… small details. That she is not some spirit looming amorphous over the world… it’s a pretty thin distinction. Demi-mortal? Demi-god? What’s the difference? One is more flattering.

“You don’t flinch? What do we do with lame cattle? I mean, there are kinder things to make of that unfit. Aable only to entertain. Pets, yes. Guard dogs, of a sort. Ears to listen. Even if all you can do is bark. Little, and powerless to help in any other way, but yelp. Lapdogs.” Camron hummed. “I have a few.”

Camron is not good. She is not a paragon of virtue. She is a villain, or anti-villain, or something. I have a growing understanding of the woman we will know better before the end of the book, but I hardly know how to feel about her. I like her as villains go. Far more reprehensible figures have become icons of fandom’s lustful adoration. I feel even less sure how I feel about that.

I think the most defining characteristic of a true villain, is one who could do incredible good with the power they have. The true defining characteristic of an anti-villain is seeing futility in the vast scope of human failure. Who see no good in what they could do instead. That being the hero is a fools errand, and so they accept the malice inherent in the system, and twist it to their ends. To take what they can, because others will. If tinged with something more noble in spots.

“Show me how useful he is. How humble your, ‘stewardson’ already is. Impress me, with what you have taught him. What it would take a stone, not to want, after what I have just begun to show you. It will always be your choice, whom he serves, and how, and you will be mine. To do with as I please. The reward, being what you already claim to be. My eastern, servant, under my protection. You have a gift, and I will teach you, how to use it. I’ve made excellent trainers, out of less than you.”

It was gravely tempting to cut the scene close to here, but the threads demand to be tied together, even as much the opposite literally happens to laces.

Some nastier cousin to a protection racket. Such a nice marriage you have here, a shame something must happened to it. The self-righteousness of one who is wrong, and stands before all that might be worse still. That Osyrae would stand where they do, without her, and other general do as they pleased, all the more, if not for her. I’m less than sure how consciously Camron sees things this way, A woman embroiled in the madness of her world, who has embraced ‘the order’ of it she sees, and only thin pretense, and pretext of false nobility. She does have a preference in how things play out. An aesthetic she prefers.

I am mostly of the mind that she has lived abroad at some point, but I’m indecisive on the mater. If she did it was for some period of time in Mordove, where she saw nothing more noble in her estimation. I’m still trying to pin down her exact age, but that she has personal opinions of the former Queen Consort she is at least in her forties (if at the time she was a child,) and probably no older than her fifties. I’d have to do some math, and check a lot of notes. All together in the ambiguous age range of gifted women that stretches from their mid twenties to late sixties before gray hair starts to give hints. Where wear and tear do show, even if a youthful health keeps up.

“When you are both through denying him. When a bastard might be in your belly, by a man you will choose. Everyone will know. He is allowed satisfaction then. When there can be no certainty. When the people know what you both are.” She picked through the bottles.

Camron brings it here back around to the threat in all of it. What she pragmatically sees as a necessity of maintaining ‘peace, and order.’ To dismantle a monarchy built on propriety that is already thin. The practical answer of a ‘kind’ hand of a conqueror, who would let would be rulers live. They can’t be seen as proper, well bred, regal, or superior.

“If you do not know how to make use of a subservient pet,” Camron gave a leading pause of her own, “you have lied to me.”

“I…” Maeren struggled.

The impulse not to comment is as strong as was that to find a way around this. I could have restructured the scene I could have made it all the more about Camron intruding upon Maeren, and Adrien all the more window dressing. I could have just not had him here. In my notes for commentary I simply point back to Book II. How a proud young knight’s son claimed something untrue of Katrisha, how she countered who did what for whom. How there is so much pent up opinion on the subject.

Ultimately Camron is more interested in humbling Adrien than Maeren. She was just a servant after all, though she finds her fascinating, interesting, and incongruous. Maeren is not a threat, in any sense. Indeed Camron is warming herself to the idea of Maeren as an asset, and her husband by some thin legal definition, a nuisance who could be made something more useful. She’s already proved more use after all.

Pure, pragmatic, and tinged with all it does imply, and I circle around the struggle in all of this. Half the point, and merit beyond simply telling a story as seems to make sense. As the world indicates it would, with the players in place. Camron represents this strange struggle between ideas of what women want, might want, or they are trained to want by society, circumstance, biology. A mire of nurture, and nature that all expectations, and traditions frame as nature. I’ve seen little reason to believe in my experience.

“We teach them the glory of their service. We show them the joy of their place, and only punish, behavior too animal to obey. You wish to be trusted, to be one who stands beneath me?”

This is as close as we get to Camron answering the question of what a ‘trainer’ is. The implications laid out. Lords the Ahashi call them, but there are Ladies, to mirror another sentiment. It was mentioned that no one talks much about Osyraen Lycians. There are reasons for that, because where they begin and end with other aspects of the society gets blurry. All the more where Clarion influences blur as well since they live mostly in secret in the land. How it all becomes tangled up. What Camron said of Red Sisters, what Maeren herself is trying to do to survive. To embrace her circumstances, and what will be asked of her. ‘A kindness,’ by only the most uncomfortable definition that she will want what is asked of her.

A sickly thing that keeps circling the world. If one can manipulate desire, then one can make subjugation more tolerable, by making it pleasant. Healers may tend wounds, and some may tend wounds that are not seen. Then still, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and where the line lays, to embrace peace, and not war, becomes troubling indeed. To enforce laws, the wills of lords, to teach submission, to train compliance. A dark and familiar shadow of what is implied of the Sun Civilization in the Crimson Book. To make things normal, and not anathema. Concubines, and kept women, even men. Prostitutes, and slaves. Wives. We define all these things various ways, by autonomy, rights, property, protections, but those have varied over ages to wild degrees, as have opinions of them.

We forget so easily the infrastructure that was needed to make more total subjugation of fellow humans common practice. We look away from what was done, or not done. We wrap things up in bows even just of cruelty, and not the more mundane mater of fact detachment of day to day life where a thing is ‘normal,’ and expected.

“So delightful, youthful, flirting.” Camron sniffed the drink. “Testing, soothing, diminishing. That’s not your goal, is it? To be small.” She sipped, but seemed no more satisfied. “Testing, is how you spot the clever ones. Fumbles, and foibles too measured. Go on. I’m waiting. I want to be impressed. Show me what a servant…” She laughed. “Made of this stewardson.” Camron swirled the drink, and sniffed. She seemed more pleased with the fragrance if not the taste.

Gifted have a whole array of aura-language. That much like body-language is only really well known to the most attentive. This is the basis of influence, and the feel of presences. Like the look in an eye, how the muscles pull at the face. A real smile, or one faked. A touch of the hand, demure, standing close, or over looming. Pushing, pulling, all the influences ascribed to presence through the narrative. Most don’t even recognize them as such. Get an opinion, just like one might of someone sultry, or belligerent. Pass it all off as just how they are, and not manipulations, learned behaviors. Adaptations of a smart animal working their way through the social construct. Navigating their fellow humans, based on past experience with others.

He nodded in small sharp bobs, and she lifted her hem just a bit. Her eyes closed.

Camron returned, and pressed herself up behind the woman. Put the drink to her lips, and tipped it. Forced her to take more than a sip, or have it spill. Maeren swallowed, and unprepared it burned.

I’ve made a deliberate choice in how I portray some things in the world, without detail, and with this scene I’m rather glad. I had already set the expectation that dialogue, and other interactions will continue, but what happens from the lifting of a hem on below is left, much as by a skirt still in place, hidden. To the imaging or ignoring of the reader. I doubt greatly anyone will actually have the least confusion. Enough further interactions, and dialogue pin it down well. If a husband, and wife conspire to deceive over what cannot be seen, to pretend, or if as they imply by their history would feel no need except for mitigating discomfort of the powerful, treating woman in the room. Who for all her problems is being ‘nice’ in that she is supplying instinctive pressure to do as she pleases them to. It is so muddled.

I could have avoided it all. I could have not allowed one more darkness to intrude. Left us only to war, death, blood, and violence. These ‘acceptable’ vices of our society, for they are unpleasant, we use them as entertainment with only the most passing concern if they inspire the activities portrayed. I cringe at the morality of portraying such coercion under the veil of fantastical powers. That only makes them more suspect, even as we strip away the obvious violence, and force. Even with indirect threats all implied. Compliance brings a ‘kinder’ hand. Compliance is made easy by a ‘seduction’ that is not always deft.

I cringe, and avoid details of action. Focus as I have other times on the dialogue. Leave the implication in the background, just out of focus. Am fascinated as I leave a man barely a prop in a scene between two women.

It’s most unsatisfying, but the answer is, ‘why not?’ Not, why not portray it, that’s not where it starts. Rather, why would it not occur? If lives are to be spared. If conquers are to be conquerors. If it would play out, and so many things tie through a scene that are meaningful. Why not show what is meaningful? All I’m left with is my own discomfort to answer.

Camron is a beautiful monster. Like a dragon, capable of such violence. She is powerful. Camron is a woman, with power, and reasons to use, and abuse it. What she gets out of it, is exactly what a man would. The thrill of power. Of watching them dance at her command. The titillation stirring her to amusements she enjoys. She does not lack empathy, but has subdued it, so much as these two. Excused it by other virtues. She is in her mind kind, and generous, to the low animals she will enjoy. One who has called herself mortal, and liked their relation to that of her, and a dragon. A humility that she can not help but accept as well played, until, as she has proclaimed, she might rectify it.

I have incredibly strong, and complicated feelings about this scene, and it pales so much to what others have written in it’s humble darkness. It’s hard to feel good about, and hard not to feel oddly proud of. I could have written around it, but I didn’t. It felt too honest, and that anything else would have been a deception, a lie, that misses the point.

Camron hummed with relish. “There is one thing I do, adore of women. The sounds they make. The mating call of an animal. Crying out to others. Calling when you are already mated. Calling challengers, and clever things. How the subtle cry they crave, may subvert the will of man. Oh, such filthy words they say of us. Of women. All so true, if their meaning forgotten. Drown in the ideas men have. That we will not always rise.”

What Camron ascribes here is a modern theory of why human females make so much noise when mating. It’s only a theory, a speculation of evolutionary psychologists. It seems to have been selected for in multiple primates. Men fear women, men have subjugated women through human history because it was the only way they could maintain control, and they could. The problem isn’t women, even if they are capable of being a anything, they are not the more aggressive, violent members of our species by in large. They have no problems of paternity to worry about. Their child is their child. Well, unless they some how lose track of them. There are variations from the norm, but the norm…

Evolutionary psychologists will oft confirm an endemic bias that “of course women are less sexual than men” because they have to be more selective. They will also tell us “of course women are more naturally nurturing, and unambitious” because instincts tell them to be mothers. Reason is ever so inclined to agree, and confirm the bias of observation in an uncontrolled (actually highly manipulated) environment. Society may be a petri dish, but it’s not a lab. There is no ‘control’ group. Society is the sum total of the opposite of a controlled experiment. A vast unwitting conspiracy of self domestication with more, or less moral means.

Women have been known to kick each other’s teeth in, with a cheep shot with of steel toed boot to the mouth over… what I actually forget. Actually happened to an ex some time around when we got together. They will absolutely stab each other with the right motivation, nothing, or everything to lose. One looks long enough at humanity, and see the primary differences between the sexes behavior in pragmatic consequences, and power disparity. Not instinct.

So. Yes. I suppose Camron reveals herself here. A feminist of a sort, but not some pleasant idealist who thinks that women are spiritually better than men, nor equal. Rather an ‘animal pragmatist,’ who thinks women are vastly more clever, insidious, and capable than men. Than they are ever given credit for. Recognizes the power of subtlety. After all, she should know.

“Fear is not enough,” Camron said, and drew her lips along a neck, near an ear. “A useful tool, but a dangerous one. The one men find so easy to employ. Forget themselves in their brutish… nature. Fear of what can harm you, will only make you seek shortcuts. Escape, rebellion. A waste. Such fear, I fear is unavoidable, as we find ourselves. I’m sorry for that.”

Camron traced the lines of garments. “So, I will need to instill in you, a far more useful feeling. A fear, of how you would ever live again, without me. I promise you this, though nothing more. You may well find out. I bore so easy, of even the most dutiful pet. If some, do draw me back around.”

This is not an uncommon understanding of human nature in Osyraen society. Particularly not after the civil war. Not after they rose up again, and nearly destroyed the Empire by route of dragons. The Empire did perish of it’s mortal wounds in the end. Left ‘squabbling children’ as Cadith called them.

If anything in all this scene could reframe Camron as something better, it is a tiny, insufficient apology for her impatient, and brutish methods. That she believes them necessary evils, or at least convenient. Why that would be I will leave unanswered, at least for now.

Carrots, and sticks. She’s mostly providing carrot. The stick is very large, hard to see, but impossible to not know is there. Carried close, and ever present. That she is dangerous. She has designs, and those who aid her she promises reward, and is all too honest, that oft being in her grace, may need be reward enough. I could re-frame Camron, rewrite her more noble, but that’s not what I have chosen to do. I choose to write a villain bordering on something far harder to define. I like that she will be utterly ambiguous in many ways. Even if they leave me as an author quite conflicted to write.

I find myself thinking to the various major female players of Game of Thrones, and how they are oft received. How Sansa was loathed for being weak when she had no power, and Daenarys loved for her oft fumbling, and disastrous idealism. How Cersei was despised for her cruelty, oft done in the name of securing her family, or vengeance for things done to her. Yet some loved Lord Baelish, a man, for his quick wit, and charming clever way. Even if he was perhaps amongst the most abjectly evil figures of the story. At least that was not an undead force of absolute destruction.

Camron’s hands grabbed at the back of a garment. Fingers pried, and tore the laces of bodice and foundation. Snapped with great pops, but with ease of the thinnest gossamer thread. A strength barely imagined ripped it asunder.

And then this happened. As sudden for me, as the reader. A realization as everything converged. The implications emerged. A tangled web of plans in play drove this scene on well past where I might have preferred to cut it.

‘Romances,’ or at least a certain subset are known as bodice rippers from a literal, and frequent occurrence in period pieces, as some sign of driven passion, or even a comical incident that might lead to revealing what is hidden. Here I co-opt this, as a sudden interruption, rather than a rush ahead. The intrusion of suspicion for what the Lady does hide. Not at all what is expected.

It seemed the most natural occurrence, however I feel about it. All of it. Through the story I find oft the ugly dance between what is desirable, and what is not. How sensuality intrudes as unbidden as a seducer. Worse one taking shortcuts of deft intrusion, far worse coercion, or force. Dubious-consent is a term that could be applied to even the gentlest application of significant advantage. Teachers, superiors, lords, ladies. There can be no untainted version of the conqueror, and the conquered.

If anything Camron’s promises, so far half delivered, of making what she will asked wanted, and her clarity of why she intrudes undermines any softening that could imply. Her reasons are dominion. Her interest power, and selfish. I hate a certain word, and all it’d derivatives. Woefully unprepared for the context we find ourselves in. Both too much, and too little to contend with ability to force desire on another, not just submission, or action, but to stir unwanted response is a whole other thing. A thing humans must at times endure, even without such powers in play. People are oft attracted to one in many ways loathsome, or so stories tell us. Tangled with a nature not un-conducive. After all a bully once asked me if I’d like to be her boyfriend, and the only escape for a lonely boy who did finder her sort of pretty, but knew better, was to refuse to answer, and call her on her bluff as a bluff. Maeren would have been drawn to Camron, if she was not so… whatever one would choose to call her.

So, by will she embraced, what could have been had with a kinder hand. A conqueror remains a conqueror, but a victim does her best to not become such. To adjust the terms of her surrender, to negotiate a peace, with nothing to offer but willingness, and service. A conqueror remains a conqueror, even if the conquered surrender without a fight. Just as the land. Not an intentional parallel, but an apt one that emerges by the course of events.

A spell caught it. It hovered a moment, rung like a bell, and flipped up. A spin making a dazzling whir of the vibration. A few drops thrown free, deflected by wards like tiny arrows.

The juxtaposition of first throwing a glass, then stopping one dropped was too much to pass up. She is allowed to make a commotion, not the fumbled fingers of a frightened woman. An abject show of power, and skill. Maybe even as I think of it, not a first. I think nothing could possibly have illustrated how miss matched this all is than how this section of the scene plays out. The sheer strength, and deftness employed. The capacities of one compared to the others.

Camron stepped up to her, and grabbed hold of her chest all the more rough. It flared with searing warmth. Made Maeren gasp as body and mind rebelled against each other. An indecision of flight or surrender, pleasure, or some likeness of agony. Just froze.

Light rippled over skin. Over chest and belly in patterns, and a lacework of spirals. A rigid whorled spell.

This was the implication. How an un-gifted servant became gifted. Tying at last an old loose thread from Book III, with everything else that has transpired. The implication early on was that Maeren was made more by association, and that remains true. She was drawn into a web by a loving hand, and subjected by this fate to enemies, and stranger thing. The Maeren we knew may or may not have encountered the mystery man. I have left ambiguity by intention with how differently she viewed him. This is almost the Avrale we knew, but ever so slightly different. Mercu’s words early in Book II were meant to foreshadow a reality that I had not yet fully understood the consequences of. The intrusion of the many worlds that were, upon the world that is, unplanned. Happened as Book IV drew to a climax.

“I…” Maeren closed her eyes, and furrowed her brow. Visions danced before her. “I did not know… what he did. I… had… other lovers… better. Kinder. I… She… they were nothing… like him.” She traced a line on her own belly with a shaking hand. Saw them both. Other hands, other faces. A blur of vision. One only in the one eye. He with a dark sneer of focus. One loving, absent, and curious with her eyes wide. As though following something with her fingers. Distracted.

The biggest conflict with anything Maeren implied in Book II was a single line, that she did not ‘imagine that gift/magic could feel so.’ That she did not reveal her past to Katrisha on this point conversely fits. That offering details of other lovers, is against ‘the rules’ as lived by women like her in the court. How propriety, and secrecy were maintained. The statements remain true. Katrisha, Celia, any other gifted lover she ever had, would have been nothing at all like the man. So we maintain an ambiguity how much this is our Katrisha’s Maeren. So much alike, but the room exists for keen difference. The higher self, the world on a larger scale could imply that they are all the same woman. A part of the sum of all possible hers.

Katrisha claimed to have re-verse engineered the magic that makes life (heals) from the Red Book, and it helped her along. Experiments she did… there is an implication here that she had touched such a power before, but again, I think I will leave that ambiguous. Who invented, or re-inveinted the art remains the same. Far older than those who now practice it. Barely noticeable even to the most clever, unless they know to look for something, or have tools well above common means.

Camron recognized it however on contact through thin un-enchanted fabric. Knows it well, it seems.

“I don’t know,” Maeren held her gaze. “I don’t know who… he was.”

“Why did you say she?” Camron pressed.

She’s not daft, she is avoiding, but far more confused. She didn’t know, and this lends credence to the ambiguity if she could be the same Maeren than the one we knew, or ever so similar. Even so.

Even fear well earned, proved so thin and gossamer, as strong laces with ease torn.

This closing line ties back to the visceral force of laces snapped under incredible force. The intrusion of induced desire, likened to that of a garment torn off.

So yes, I remain conflicted, but I hope my readers will forgive me that.

There were many things that tore away the faith I was raised in. The victim blaming of the Bible striking amongst them. Incidents, and points of law to say that a woman who failed to fight hard enough was to blame. Worthy of stoning to death, that she did not scream loud enough. That fear, or force, or bad circumstances were cause enough as guilt against all morality. That if she had not ‘betrayed’ a betrothed or husband in this ‘failure,’ she should be forced to marry one who had forced himself upon her, for she was spoiled in the eyes of men, and laws of God.

All the more the reason hidden under one horror is another. A woman’s — ‘presumed‘ — willingness is her great sin. That beyond the horror of the conflation of compliance, consent, or want, that a willing participation would be worthy of amongst the most gruesome, excruciating, and horrific of public executions. That woman who had sex willingly, it is proscribed must so suffer. All for the propriety of men. Unless one believed a ‘perfect, and loving god’ decreed such. No argument of ‘time or place’ can reconcile this. A shadow that is cast over our modern world even in the abstract. That taints our culture in a depraved distortion of what is just or right.

I struggle quite a bit with the borderline through this section, because it can be looked at so many ways, and angles, and cast different shadows, or light upon one world or another. How easily fantasy and nightmare butt up against each other, and where the line lies . The writer or the reader, is left as poor Maeren and Adrien to struggle with what attracts, or repulses.

As I try to pull apart my feelings on what I have wrought, I find myself returning to how much worse echoes across themes replete through society as lustful fantasies. Myths, and myths of myths. Vitriolic arguments as to who is to blame for corruptions. Male gaze, and women buying books in droves, where they are of debased. How much more harm society has done beyond recognized abusers, by teaching that even what is mutual, and willing, is evil. The tangled web of power fantasies, and those also of powerlessness abound. All muddle up.

It should be no surprised to find eroticism where it should not be found. It was put there by ‘well meaning’ (in origin corrupt, and laden in excuse) ‘morality.’ That was only ever really attached to patriarchal power. Human nature driven into the shadows, and unprotected. The line moved so far to a side it is meaningless, and humans scramble in the dark. Trying to find where it really was, or should have been. If they are bothered, and do not just embrace one easy answer or another. Lost, and returning to animal instinct, or the illusions of it they are fed. Untruths beget untruths, and tangled webs make deceivers of the earnest, and mislead. The great moral sin of religion, is basing morality on the varying whims of an ‘ever silent observer in the sky,’ as ascribed by a book written down, transcribed, translated, and interpted by men.

A house built not even upon sand, but clouds, and ink.

Liora ascribed the words to her mother. “She never felt so free, as in chains.”

Because then she wasn’t responsible.

VII:17 – Under Woven

What lord hath man but fear,
what love hath he but her,
what continence either spy,
for none could gaze on high,

Rhan had set on lands of man,
‘n Laeune rose high in summer,
storm bloomed at her fine hand,
fruits where she might slumber,

that witch forswore blood to fall,
held at her back the end of all,
in waters red by firelit sky, she languished,
he humble, the thirst of flower vanquished.

– Songs of the Sun

Under Woven

Jovan 34th, 1 S.R.

Katrisha stood in stillness. Everything else was in motion.

She needed not eyes to see, but sight held such power in beauty. Bright trails of light swirled over fields of grain, and the spotted luminous tracks of fungi under foot. Fluttering things moved through it all. Smaller granules of living dust whorled about. Caught up on eddies of wind, and in wings most light. Tiny moths wove with wisps, and fireflies darted through. Added orange embers to a dance of cooler hues.

A swath of that orange went out. Like a bird it came down, but wasn’t right. The patterns of wings, and a shape peculiar. A feathery moth, big as a dinner plate broke through a stream of light it had not quite seen, and halted a decent.

Startled by a flash, or the woman ahead it flapped hard. So many distractions it could have been missed, left to mortal eyes alone. A wing though cut a stream that swirled in ribbons. Made it all for a moment alight. Even to a companion who drew only half a breath, as all went still. Colors scintillated into gray as it slowed. Katrisha let out her breath, and this too roiled with the light, and froze.

There were ideas of color under it all, that fragmented around. Words for light in languages forgotten, and ne’er spoken. She looked around in the shadowed moment she had caught by accident.. Samantha was watching her, half motherly, or like an older sister. An aunt, an old friend. Sam. Frozen with the world, that gaze was worried. Eyes only just turning up to what light had broken before them.

Katrisha looked back to the giant moth caught in a swirl of a stream disrupted. Like all the others, so much smaller, that had fluttered around. Like butterflies looking for flowers, confused. The little ones settled on glowing mushroom caps. Flitted off in frustration when they realized they’d been tricked. Swirled the spores into the air, just like the wind. Got caught up in fibrous wings, and made them glow.

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Commentary VII:16

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A Simple Web

Too absorbed with writing this week (and a bit of spending time with the wife) while I’ve had time off, so not starting collating commentary till Thursday. I have a great deal written for the next two weeks at this point, though it’s in woeful need of organization. These separate threads in desperate locals each with their own unnerving, and enthralling elements. Characters that I am writing to be conflicting to a reader, and dance moral event horizons (think them quaint notions at best) are all the more puzzling, and uncomfortable to write than read, but more about this week.

The epigraph has a slight obfuscation in attribution by route of the collection it is implied to be from. The literal title of the poem is the Threads of Laeune, which having repeated would be odd as my format goes. It’s a bit of a pet-peve I’ve avoided many times before in varied ways.

The epigraph we get however by the round about course of the work of spiders in Napir, which gave me a title for a section, that became the title of the chapter as I felt it fit, and so, the Epigraph was written on the old intention of the jangling things that Rhaea kept in her boughs.

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VII:16 – Threads of Laeune

A mother wove a silver thread,
there up on young proud boughs,
oh little child so innocent and pure,
belies a heart ever true and wild,

though only a mirror held her gaze,
fingers there not her own to play,
brushed hair, whispered courage,
that a game was done that day,

mother knows a girls nature to be,
the suitors she will surely court,
father’s lies of woman guileless,
shall deny no petals to part.

– Songs of the Sun

Threads of Laeune

“Well, there is awkward, and… there is whatever that is.” Samantha leaned on the rail beside Katrisha.

Katrisha glanced to the side, down from the spectacle far above. Strands of something shimmered, woven overhead. Stranger, and far closer than stars. Constellations with no more sense to them to have actual lines.

Samantha was looking up herself, two pairs of wheels hung on the wall behind her. Tucked up and dry under a second roof that looked clamped on. A convenient way for traders to settle down, for a while, without giving up any option. That was if not for the sheer difficulty of where a wagon had been hauled. To be put up on stilts in the first place, beside a lake masquerading as rivers. Gained a veranda as the home of town’s mayor, that was shared with the local Red Priestess. It was all a bit much, and utterly unsurprising. It was the familiarity that held her eye a moment.

Katrisha turned back to the sky without taking the bait. Try as she might, she could not make sense of what she saw. She adjusted her spectacles, and narrowed her eyes. Grew frustrated, pulled them off, and rubbed the left.

“Alright, I give up. What is going on up there? I swear, I keep seeing something moving, but I can’t make it out.”

“Oh, you know, cobwebs. The usual mess, when no one dusts for a few years.” Samantha chuckled.

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Commentary VII:15

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The Puzzle of Pacing

Nothing new about letting things slide till Thursday at this point, though knowing I have more free time in the coming days has been an element. Not a holiday surprisingly enough with my biblical upbringing that was instilled with any meaning in me other than free time to catch up on things. That does narrow it down quite a lot. Made some progress on the coming chapter, though some conversations are fragmentary, and partly written over a week ago.

The epigraph was absolutely a Sunday morning invention. There is an odd truth to a heliocentric view of the universe, from the sense of an infinite universe. There is no center, for there is no edge, and all one has is a reference frame, in sense of einsteinian ideas. One ever changing as we look out at a wider scope, until that scope at last falls apart. First we look at our day to day lives as bipedal organisms that stand precariously on two legs against the force of gravity. By which we defiantly define our up and down. Take a step back and the earth and moon fall around each other. There is a dominant partner, but the center of mass is between them, by which some argue they are more like twin planets.

The sun we spiral around, in a so called orbit, sometimes called free fall. Is itself zipping around a bunch of distant, tightly whirling super massive black holes in a wild gravitational dance. All kept shrouded in a bright core of dense stelar activity. Down, is always the direction in which we are falling, but we are falling towards things falling towards other things. It may be turtles all the way down, but it’s gravity billiards all the way up. At least until you get out far enough. Then it all seems to be threads of slow (glacial would be an understatement) moving ethereal gossamer. Beads strung along on a force we thought was down, but up his history. All of this seems to be thinning, and fleeing a vast cosmic stretching we call inflation. Dark, or vacuum energy.

A force that is pushing everything else away from us at what scientists assert is an accelerating rate. Based on their interpretation of the evidence at least. Because so far as I can conclude, if farther objects are moving away faster, that should mean the universe is decelerating. At least until you try to correct for an expansion of space itself which is rationally presumed shifting the hue of light… Also assume that no underlying constants vary over incredibly vast intergalactic distances… while assuming distance itself is varying…

Regardless, for all intents and purpose we appear to be at the center of the observable universe, because out there somewhere is an event horizon. One if they are right, we will never see past. If the universe is accelerating then the universe, however possibly infinite, is still effectively finite. There are parts of it that can never observe each other. That must each conclude independently that they are the center, until proven otherwise, and by science we take as a tenant of faith, that which cannot be tested, cannot be really considered proven. However otherwise sound and consistent. Accepted theory.

A blond haired knight read over a letter nervously alone at a long table in the mess of Silver Creek. He looked up through a skylight. A failed attempt to hide the way he glanced around. Betrayed that he was checking that no one watched him.

It’s been a while since we caught up at Silver Creek, but by in large, that’s because nothing is happening. A mining town has graciously embraced a small number of refugees, who are mostly quite useful given they are trained healers. A child and a knight are less so, though Charles does I imagine offer a strange sort of half comfort to the residents. The thin pretense of hope, though also perspective, that a knight is hiding amongst them. How he’s been playing up his presence to the locals as, perhaps less clear. So far Silver Creek has not been bothered with directly being secured, though I imagine a small number of soldiers might arrive soon to hasten the transport of silver.

It’s a little odd to have two Charles in one chapter, but perhaps an apt kind of odd, hammering home that yes there are two of him, in two places. Split at very least down different courses back around the end of Book II, but details do trickle in to imply that the schism is older. ‘The Three Day War’ does get mentioned elsewhere.

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VII:15 – Familiar Faces

What falls that anything may rise,
if but in cycles of passing time,
what say the mages of the sun,
that we circle the burning one,

aether some claim burns high above,
that neither lurks cold and dark below,
yet we fall in great arcs cross the sky,
and fires of magma smolder down low,

the cold stings sharp at lips in winter,
when Rhan sinks low in a Hivern sky,
and one wonders how close the simile,
when of up and down, the truth may lie.

– The Upside Down, 297 E.R.

Familiar Faces

Jovan 31st, 1 S.R.

A blond haired knight read over a letter nervously alone at a long table in the mess of Silver Creek. He looked up through a skylight. A failed attempt to hide the way he glanced around. Betrayed that he was checking that no one watched him.

Celia walked up, and sat opposite him with her meal. Set Kitren down beside her. “For all your intrigues, you courtiers are the worst at hiding things. Maybe it’s just cause Lycians don’t care who knows much of anything. What have you got?”

“Nothing.” Charles folded the paper.

“Clearly not.”

Continue reading “VII:15 – Familiar Faces”