Commentary VI:14

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The War of Mirrors

Trying again to do commentary in parallel with editing, and really tightly coupling the process section by section. I decided to add another day on background, in which I presume mostly wallowing, or futile conversations happened. No progress, Laset continues to imply she is to weak without showing obvious signs.

One presumes Rihonae is actually using the orrery chamber as a functional throne room, and not just for show. Maintaining a presence here most days for petitioners, and so she was easy to find on the previous day, to have one more ask of when they would be let go.

A little haggling in which I took a minute to think through practical political details. I did consider if tolls are ever levied on the roads, given the necessity of the trade caravans, but decided surely they are kept minimal, but exist. That council law supports this, and by the same jurisdiction ports, or even sea lanes might have slipped in.

A small touch of distrust finds a place for Orwell, and some other little details, one I will call out.

We have seen one other character with silver hair in the course of the story, and he was a Temyn Sylvan that we know scarcely little about other than Cadith’s coercion, and conscription of the man into his raiding force. It’s been implied (I think?) that Sylvan Weavers (at least sometimes) have hair such as Katrisha. We’ve also recently had implication that the Sylvan slaves in Osyrae got a fresh influx of refugees during the Sylvan civil war, and so, the mother of one of Rihonae’s ‘girls’ imparted knowledge that is oft lost to the outside world. As it were, their father did not have this trait, and was as raven haired as any of the siblings were born, as most Sylvans are. I’d even put forth that black hair might be a high-dominant train in many Sylvans.

More than any reason I’ve spread this sequence out, was I wanted to show a slower decent toward inevitable conflict. Etore really is my favorite character to push people. Plain, abrasive, and clever in equal measure. She’ll play the foil to almost anyone, or any time. Actually one of the characters who fights me the least in sticking to the plan.

I considered letting Orwell offer more of a counter argument, but I think deep self analysis of attraction is rare, even amongst those who’s attractions are considered unconventional. So I leave it in his voice as simply a mater of, it just is. Frankly we still spend more time guessing at the mechanisms underlying biological components.

Social pressures and what other triggers are a whole other ball of wax. Etore even calls out one in her opening remarks on the subject. Evolution did not spit out a male tailored specifically to female needs, but to his own propagation. Being a desirable mate is on the list, but just one of many success factors. This is surely near as true in cultural evolution as biological, and separating the two is a tangled mess.

Instincts I generally chalk up to a very peculiar dance, and this does play out subtly in a lot of things we hear about Red Women, and their like. Attraction is immensely complex, because it has to integrate with intelligence. Whatever physical sensations involved must build a conscious and subconscious trigger loop. A likely pavlovian process where an individual through repeated exposure to stimuli develops a baseline of attraction. Any instinctual encoding are just the kickoff underneath.

Etore’s statements about Wren are a tricky mater. They are certainly her perspective, not based on conversations (which would oft be disrupted by her biting manner,) but observations, and interpretations. The behavior she’s observed coming to the fore in the context of Sund’s observations of Orwell. I won’t say she precisely read the superficial cause of those actions wrong, only perhaps the deeper complexities. I imagine, some day, some one might recognize the act described.

She ultimately offers the advice she will, embrace the challenges ahead, or run from them. Fight or flight, is as much her nature as twisting that knife.

Slowing down, and facing what is happening has very much been the challenge. I try to keep a main character present in most scenes, but ever so often we need to step aside to offer the needed context, or the larger picture.

I will admit in the writing process I had Orwell requested to stay behind to drive conflict. To offer him opportunity to fall into the dance we observed in the prior scene, but as I really thought about why, asking him to stay, privately, without others to counter the offer was fitting to all I had in mind.

Sund has been riled to actually challenge Orwell on the things bothering him. We learned a bit about the stories he’s told, in conversation with Etore, but a bit more depth I think emerges amidst it all. That as we saw a singer do before, he assumes another’s form, though not anyone present.

I attempt to imply he is trying very hard to accommodate, and comfort, but all at once there is something dark twisting underneath. So I permit some dubious manner to remain. Is this creature all that they pretend? Certainly it is more, and that more, is unnerving at best.

In my very earliest draft I permitted it all to happen at once. Orwell to be transformed, Sund to be offered to drink, Laset to see her mistake, and the creature that awoke to go instantly mad. Horribly rushed, and abrupt. I debated dragging this out longer, but other needs pushed my hand. I think I’ve smoothed it all out enough, but I’m still not thrilled by the abruptness.

Why Wren is so triggering to this creature I’ll not delve into yet, but there are reasons, both going in, and that I’ve realized through the writing. We get a lot of clues, but they are pretty deep cuts in symbolism for physical processes. Ultimately I allow the disconnect of action and thought, of words and understanding to pull Orwell apart. Something slips, and I try to stress that the posture of a beleaguered man does not fit the arm that draws back.

I actually forgot Liora in the first draft of the scene, had Wren intervene in the opening strike. Remembering Liora let everything work much better, though I momentarily considered having her have walked away early with her possessions, and not present. I’m glad I took the time to rethink the flow around her.

She proved the most effective against Laset before, so it made some sense that she could stagger this new threat. Still while this creature does not display Laset’s boundless grace, it does seem more powerful. The nods that this is not Orwell emerge mostly in the cries of despair, but also I intend in the failure to land the attacks it might have.

This scene is actually full of mirrors and callbacks to things (including ones unpublished,) but I’m not going to call them all out, because some might spoil further reveals to hint too much at. More than one exists here in the opening moments of the fight, but some are more important than others.

I feel a bit bad that Sund does not run sooner to Dahlia’s side, but I let shock win. He’s surely got some conflicts around her, and absolute shock at the devolving of the situation wins in my mind. I feel a bit bad that I’ve staged something like a fight with the T2K of the Terminator franchise, but that is just what sort of emerged. Honestly this thing is way more deadly, and the only thing that seems to be stopping it, is more an internal struggle than the heroes fighting it.

I feel better that as I iterated on the scene, I added more, and more of Orwell fighting back. Orwell was named entirely on a whim originally, but some aptness may have emerged. Though at the moment he’s become more of a Lovecraftian horror, if antiseptically metallic, not fleshy.

Laset came into the world to help establish the powers that are Taloe. She finds herself entwined with the contest of ascension, and the madness of the powers that have beset Kiannae. While Laset herself was, or at least appeared stable, she knew, at least by the time Orwell had resumed his form she had failed. So, it made sense for her to have Rihonae implore he remain. Where he could be watched. Still she hoped, and so she did not speak her fears, nor did she know precisely how or when it would go wrong.

In the end, I like to think Laset’s sacrifice, messaged in a cryptic way to perhaps avoid their enemy understanding, helps settle what side she was mostly on. Orwell in the end seen to fight the monster that had woken, and stolen his place, is left with a monster gouging out his eye. To be just a little coy still, this final configuration gave me the title.

Mayari on the other hand, knew the possibilities, and the triad of the alliance she has struck comes clearly into question. Dahlia however proves the major distraction, even if we are left with questions about Liora. Stress induced labor, coincidence, or are we looking at cause and effect backwards? I almost wonder if the child would have been born any way, on the path down to the shore.

I almost let it slip, and I wonder if I have elsewhere in the story around the point. Months are a different length on Thaea, six weeks. Roughly 40 weeks to come to term for a human pregnancy. We say 9 months, but it’s 10. It’s somewhat funny to find the way I structured the calendar average gestation falls near dead center between 6 and 7 months.

Nothing really settled, we cut away, and return to the moments after.

I was always coy about Aster’s anatomy, and Estae’s. A lot of thoughts collided in this child around the dire portents of the Orwell, and lingering thoughts have come together into a more cohesive picture. A larger scheme in play, that Mayari will hint at in the next scene.

Still we needed something to abridge the birth, and offer the pertinent new points of concern, along with Orwells prophetic madness. Son, daughter, like a Lord which began as a confusion, and perhaps was, becomes a possible poetic for something deeper going on. This was caught and added very late in editing.

I do find myself wondering about Katrisha sending Kiannae after. Some combination of prudence and caution for interacting with the dragonborn herself. Feeling someone needs to stand guard. Mostly I just wanted to let Kiannae have a chat at the end of the next scene.

Mayari is proving to be my favorite antagonist to write. Smart, personable, charming, and utterly untrustworthy. Cold, and calculating, but not necessarily evil or malicious, it can be hard to tell, and she does little to assuage such fear. She seems to like it. Though I will offer the benefit of the doubt, that the saying goes, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

I’m not really sure what to say about a lot of this. I do find the imagery of a crossed leg apt to at least hint to a reader, with a deep cut that would fly well over the heads of the two fairly knowledgable, and clever individuals she’s talking to. I’m not sure if I’ll ever explain in the narrative directly, but what she is drawing a picture of may become clear in a few chapters.

I suppose it should be worrisome that Wren is becoming wrathful, but no animal is boundlessly gentle if pressed far enough. No conscious mind invulnerable to the ever looming shadow of their own inability to fix the problems of the world, and not make new ones. That he gets only cryptic taunting from Mayari is a bit triggering.

I find it funny that in Book VI, I finally find the odd case to call back to the title of Book II. Totally coincidental, but I embraced it. The Blight, the spirit haunting Kiannae, perhaps a bit awkward that the calm of the eye falls directly in the same section.

I will clarify what is alluded to here, but not expressly said. The data in old Norbert (the staff crystal) provides a prediction of a tight orbit of one of the dark companions, that was described as a bright ring where the track became a circle. As such, the world itself could be argued to be inside the eye of the storm. At least, that is what Mayari implies. The surge is continuing to escalate regardless because available energy is rising due to close proximity. As it has in any pass.

Some of the most experienced minds in the field of orbital mechanics are looking at those numbers, the system, and simulation. No, Mayari hadn’t heard anything from reports, she’s not got that kind of connections. She knows however, and always a great deal more than she tells. As she chided Rihonae, she knows a lot more than can be told, if only for time. That is a conveniently true excuse.

Kiannae is continuing to worry about Taloe, she has received many dire portents of his fate. She’s past worrying if he is Estae, but for his survival even if in some sense he might be her shadow. Though she’s mostly past that worry as well. She’s lost enough, and willing to cautiously ask a creature she cannot trust – but that may know the truth – what will insure his survival.

Mayari mostly repeats what Kiannae has heard before, in a new way. No specific proscription, which means it is harder to frame as a lie. I’ll leave however the reader to pick between the lines, just as Kiannae must. To decide if she can trust the advice she has been given.

I worry I write too much cheek touching, but then again, it’s no more strange a cultural affectation than kissing, and ever so slightly more passable when intrusive. The back of the fingers a move meant to mock, tease, or show power, but can end in a more intent cupping quite easily. I’ve long implied that there is a connection in this act between those prone to doing it, but its not so precisely restrained to mirrors, or shadows, because it emerged as much as a cultural affectation itself. So, I’m somewhat happy to leave an ambiguity when it means more, or is simply a characterization of a manner that echoes those we’ve encountered before.

Mayari adds an extra level to potentially be self aware of all this, and just as any other way she seems to self sabotage, to rile people, and keep them on edge, she as likely did this to nudge Kiannae into seeing her as something, as is that thing. Playing games constantly so her opponents loose track.

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