Chapter III:12

Fire washes the forest all around,
red ‘n orange, summers final crown,

winter brings her cold embrace,
a time at last for sheltered peace,

snows melt in vernum’s calm embrace,
storms break across the forest plains,

summer wakes beneath a sunless sky,
stars each so bright, as midday light,

a moon she rose a mirror to the sun,
to light the night with Laune’s love.

– Songs of the Sun, 32 E.R.

The Autumn Shard

Etore glanced from her quiet corner across the bar. It was busy, but not packed. Frank was rubbing his head, and trying to maintain his temper. It was amusing to watch, as an apologetic waitress scurried off to refill the order. Samantha stood at the bar, and accepted and handful of coins from the sixth woman that appeared from the stairs. Etore shook her head, as Wren appeared a few minutes later. He locked eyes with her, and she turned her eyes to the table, and willed herself to vanish.

Nothing.

She looked up. Wren had walked past, and sat across from the taller of his sisters, with her raven hair, and that new swath of white from the temple. Odd, how it had been there the day after the battle, and not before. How they had found her like that. The conversations she had overheard shed little light on it. Only raised more questions. Nothing but questions around any of them, and so few good answers. Whispers, and near yelling about prophecy.

She turned to the other one, whose hair had regained some of its luster, but still was mostly a gossamer white. She was chatting far too agreeably with Mallory, flirting, obviously. Each of them gesturing here, or there about the bar. To a waitress, a patron, or one of the women who had appeared over the evening from upstairs, fresh from being tended by a healer for fates knew what. She rolled her eyes, and sipped her drink. Not her concern what private games the fools played. She rather hoped that wasn’t the report her patron wanted.

She wasn’t sure any amount of gold was worth watching the lot of them. Confusing, boring, and dangerous at unpredictable intervals. The exact kind of trouble she didn’t want. The kind she couldn’t control, or avoid. Them, so often leaving her feeling the one intruded upon, when she was the one spying.

Kiannae got up from the table, and walked past Etore who cringed that another of the infuriating lot would turn to her, but nothing. She drew a breath, and let it go. Being seen when she didn’t want to, happened, often enough, but it was getting painfully old in this company. She considered just leaving the caravan, and staying there in town. Waiting to join up with another in a few months. Mallory would finally win the bet she wouldn’t show up for payroll. She resented that a bit, but considered she’d just steal half the take off him the next time they crossed paths.

It was tempting, if not for her contract. Not that caravan contracts had a lot of weight in the wider world, but if you broke one, and it got out, you were out. Whatever reputation she had, it was worth nothing if she broke her bond. It was the main reason Mallory was an idiot for constantly betting against her, and why Carter kept giving him ten to one odds. There was always an out though. Her contract was with Samantha at that point, not Carter. Not that it helped. Samantha would not let her go. Not headed into western Corinthia, and scar lands, or worse up towards Palentia, and the border. Rumors were what they were. That those bandits calling themselves rebels would just take a tax. She didn’t trust rumors like that. Not traveling with the lot she found herself among.

Someone sat down across from her. She looked up from her drink with irritation to the almost girlish face of a young man leaning on one arm, staring across at her.

“What?” she demanded, returning his gaze far less amiably.

“You look troubled,” Wren offered.

“So stop troubling me,” Etore countered, and drank.

“Cute,” Wren said with a smile.

“I thought it was rather plain,” Etore retorted.

Wren flagged down a waitress, who gave him a friendly smile. “What ya want hun?”

“Something sweet, not too strong,” he answered. “And another of whatever my friend here is having,” he gestured across the table.

The waitress looked confused, turned, and shook her head. “Oh, terribly sorry, didn’t see you there.”

“I like it that way,” Etore said, pursed her lips, and glared across the table.

The waitress looked back to Wren, and seemed thoughtful. “Orange wine is probably the best I can do, if you don’t mind the fizz.”

“Sounds fine,” Wren said, “and you?” he said.

“I’m working,” the waitress said dismissively.

Wren laughed, and pointed across the table.

The woman turned, and went a bit crimson. “Oh, right, yes, sorry. Long night.”

“You trying to get me drunk?” Etore asked tilting her head. “Pretty sure even sipping your orange wine I can drink a scrawny thing like you under the table.”

“I’m trying to help you get, whatever you would like,” Wren countered.

“Eh, if you are paying,” Etore said. “Another summer ale,” she added but the waitress had started to walk away, and made no sign she had noticed. She grimaced with annoyance.

“And a summer ale,” Wren called over his shoulder.

The waitress turned, and looked surprised, but nodded.

He turned back, and leaned on his arm again.

Etore nursed her drink.

“You do know, I’m still watching you lot. You’ve given me no reason not to cash in, if I ever find that mad fool again. If he can’t pay, I’ll take his shiny little sun.”

“Doubt you know anything that makes that a problem,” Wren said. “Doubt there is anything to know, that would make that a problem. Figure I can make watching me easy.” He teased his finger along the edge of his robe absently.

“Fates, you really are a woman, aren’t you,” Etore muttered, glaring at him. “Bout as respectable as that lot you’ve been healing all afternoon. What do you even want?”

“Honestly,” Wren said, and rested his hand on the table instead. “Not a clue. I left Highvale to get away from my problems. Seems dumb, given all the ones I walked into, and the one that followed me anyway.”

“Yeah, she’s a piece of work,” Etore said and sipped. “Though listening to her, I’m not sure what your problem is. Skills I’m sure, not unlike your own, angling to share you. There any kind of man in you at all?”

“Plenty,” Wren answered.

“I’ll take your word for that,” Etore said unimpressed.

“Oh, I heard you, trying to take Sasha down a peg,” Wren laughed. “Nice try, on both counts. She’s not easily flustered. Last problem soldier we had at Highvale she reduced to a whimpering wreck in moments. Took three others to haul his babbling mouth out the front door.”

“You say that like, you like her.”

“Like,” Wrens said, “isn’t quite the right word. Mind you, I’m not altogether sure what is. I won’t fault you for thinking what you please though.”

“Thank you,” Etore offered snidely, “for your permission, your worship.”

“My worship, can be arranged,” Wren countered.

Etore sneered at him, but was distracted as the waitress set two mugs in front of him. “Sure you want both of these?” she asked. “Not a good mix.”

Wren gestured across the table. The waitress turned, winced, and marched away in embarrassment.

“Why don’t you just let it go?” Wren asked. “Doesn’t seem a convenient way to live.”

“Oh, it’s plenty convenient,” Etore said, and snatched a drink from a tray going by. The waitress adapted without missing a step. “Take what you please, and no one bothers you. Well, usually.” She narrowed her eyes at him.

Wren sniffed his drink, and sipped. He wrinkled his nose a bit. “Not quite Highvale cider.”

Etore finished her first drink, and started on her stolen one. She watched as the waitress arrived at a table, and handed out the tray. On the last mug, one short, she looked confused, and glanced between two men at the table. Frank was slow, as the other man grabbed it first. Frank slammed his fist several times, causing others to pick up their drinks in case he did something rash. He looked around, grimaced, and glared at the waitress, who ran off in search of another replacement.

Wren sipped his drink. “He do something to you to deserve that?”

“To me?” Etore asked with a rhetorical air. “No, I’d do a lot worse, if he did something to me. As if he could.”

“Who then?” Wren pressed.

Etore shook her head. “You really don’t mind your own business, do you?”

Wren shrugged.

“Not what he did,” Etore said. “What he didn’t do, really. Saw him chatting up this pretty little harlot in Thebes last summer. Saw them go off upstairs, not my business, but I notice things. Next morning, some Clarion priest is making a fuss. Riling up the townsfolk to harass her, and what does he do? Nothing. Big man like him could have shut the lot up, best I could provide was a minor distraction. Not unless I wanted to break several laws, and start drawing swords in the street. So I tripped Frank when he tried to slip away, and the priest when he tried to follow the woman. People laugh at idiots, a lot faster than they chase women just trying to get through their lives.”

Wren nodded. “So, justice of a sort.”

“Of a sort,” Etore answered, and took a long swig of her next drink.

“So, not quite what you pretend to be, then,” Wren prodded.

“I pretend, to be nothing,” Etore said. “Nothing, and nowhere.” She threw back her head, and took the second half of the drink in successive gulps. Then wiped her lips on her sleeve, and tossed it carelessly aside with a clatter as it tipped over. She reached across, and grabbed the one Wren had ordered for her. “Still sipping, little man?” she asked with a smirk.

Wren took a large swig himself. “Why?” he asked. He hiccuped and covered his mouth.

“Because, I hate people,” she said leaning forward. “The ones who hold their heads so high in the light of day most of all. The ones who think they are, someone, until the truth gets under their skin. Then they so often do something dumb, to prove they aren’t just nothing, like everyone else.”

She sipped her drink, and Wren did the same.

“You pretend, to be nothing,” Wren said. “Your words, not mine. Is that because you are someone?”

She laughed, and shook her head. “No more than the next fool,” she said, and sipped, looking sad. “Oh, I’ve taken the lives of plenty of someone’s. Ones, determined to be the worst sort, in their righteous certainty that they are the center of this world.”

Wren drank, and looked down, a dark expression falling over his face. He closed his eyes. “You say it like you are proud, but I don’t think I believe that. You don’t like what you do, or who you pretend to be.”

“You don’t know me kid,” Etore said with just the slightest slur. “The things I’ve seen, or just how terrible people really are, when they think no one’s looking. I don’t like a lot of things. Clarions, Lycians, lords and ladies. You lot need watching, so if someone is willing to pay, yeah, I’ll keep my eye on you.” She threw back the last of her drink, and stood up.

Wren looked up at her, as she leaned over the table towards him.

“So, we playing whatever game this is somewhere more private?” she asked with a spiteful sneer that belied her words.

Wren finished his drink, stood up, and offered her his hand. She glanced at it, laughed incredulously, turned and walked to the bar. She slammed a handful of coins down before a befuddled bartender. “Extra goes to the short brunette, when you sort out the missing drinks for the night.” She turned back to Wren. “I presume, you already have a room? For your private healing sessions.”

He nodded, fished out a silver, and put it on the bar next to her scattering of coins.

It was late, and Samantha had done everything she could to stay out later, save finding a room in an inn. She hesitated, wagon door in hand. She shook her head, and opened it. Sasha sat reading a book with a conjured mage light hovering above her shoulder. She made no indication she was interested in the interruption, and Samantha got in.

As soon as Samantha set the latch, she heard a voice behind her. “Show me your box,” Sasha said in a casual tone.

Samantha froze, spun, and gave her an annoyed and incredulous look.

Sasha raised an eyebrow, grinned, and then laughed. “Fates, and you think I’m the dirty minded one. There are at least six words I would choose to use before that, for what you are thinking. No. The one you think is oh so inconspicuous on the shelf. The metal is doing a bit to obscure it, but not enough. Also, I can feel the heat off it just walking by.”

Samantha did not look the least happy. “That’s my business. Not yours.”

“You want to know what’s happening, don’t you?”

Samantha pursed her lips. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

“I’m the one who healed the burn, from whatever you are keeping locked on a shelf.” Sasha set her book aside. “Not just some broken enchantment, like you claimed. No. Why would you keep it, or guard it so preciously? You want trust, I’ll tell you what you think you heard the other night.”

“I’m listening,” Samantha said, and crossed her arms.

Sasha sighed. “I like you. Whatever you think of me, I really do like you. So please, keep that in mind.”

“No more games,” Samantha said. “Out with it.”

“This isn’t my first time living this life, though, everything seems to have moved around. People I knew dead, people who never were, walking among the living. It’s taken me years to sort that out. For, feelings and flashes, to become memories and insights.”

“You said…” Samantha looked confused. “You said you knew their mother.”

“Knew,” Sasha laughed. “Yes, that’s a word for it.” Her humor failed her though. She had the look of one pained, but putting on a brave face. “I knew her, as you say, I don’t know how many years. Decades I think. Lived with her in Highvale, and followed her to Broken Hill, when her grandmother demanded a place for her at court. King’s granddaughter and all.”

“How can that be?” Samantha pressed.

“Try,” Sasha intoned. “Try, to remember last night. The versions that didn’t win you over. The moments…I was weak, and confused.” She added with the first sign of embarrassment Samantha felt she had ever seen from her.

Samantha drew a sharp breath thoughtfully. “I, remember, but it’s all a blur.” She leaned against the door frame. “What is this? What are you doing?” Her hand was on the latch, ready to run, but wanting answers.

“I was twenty-one, the first time I saw it clearly. Not just feelings, instincts, hints. The same moment, in shadows, played out three times. She was such a pretty woman, older, but so, strong, and capable. Smart, and difficult, and just a little broken,” she hesitated, “but who isn’t. Three tries I made at that flirt, before she actually smiled. Oh, it wasn’t so easy though, was it? Took me weeks to find a moment when your guard was down enough. When you were drunk, and smiling at me, and let me close. Oh, you broke that kiss, what, four times I think, but I was determined, to find just the right way, just the touch, just the presence that would make you kiss me back.”

Samantha looked away, her hand fiddling with the latch, embarrassed, and confused, because she did remember it. It had been part of what had bothered her so much. She had broken the kiss, and then, then they were kissing again. She closed her eyes, and let it play out in her head, until that moment when it felt too nice. Just for a moment. She still had broken the kiss, soon after when her senses came back to her.

“So, you’ve more than one, insidious power to play against me,” Samantha said irritably. “Yeah, I remember now. I see what you did, though I still don’t understand how.”

“Do you remember the storm-monk duel we watched in Napir?” Sasha pressed. “The next year.”

“It was impressive,” Samantha said dismissively. “I’d heard so many stories of how fast they move, how, you see more than one of each at a time.”

“How many, did you see?” Sasha asked in a very leading tone.

“Three, four sometimes, five, of each when the whole crowd cheered.”

“There was only one, or, well two,” Sasha said. “You saw five, but there was only one, of each of them. Probably more ways it played out than I saw. Which was nine, by the way. The rest were shadows in your mind, moves they did not make. Positions, and paths they did not follow, or reach. I’m sure you’ve heard of battle mages. We are traveling with two of them after all. More, if you count whatever Etore is. Special snowflake that one.”

“So you are a mage then?” Samantha asked, glancing at the light hovering over Sasha’s shoulder. She had seen so many mages conjure one she hadn’t thought much of it, but as far as she knew, Sasha had never used magic.

“Eh,” Sasha said, stood up, and strode closer. “Not much of one, no. Also, if we are to pretend that I haven’t lived another life, then who taught me this?” She gestured to the light. “I never trained with the arcanist, or any other mage. Not at Highvale, not on the road. I know of course. I know exactly who taught me, but, as you pointed out, there is no way I knew their mother. A woman who was, so far as I know, also never trained as a mage. Not, in this life anyway. Not at all, if what I am saying is wrong, and I am mad.”

Samantha seriously considered pulling the latch, jumping out, and running. Yet against all better judgment a part of her trusted Sasha. A far larger part of her felt foolish to even consider running from a mostly harmless healer. Whatever strange gifts she had, or story she was spinning. “So, you aren’t a mage, but you can do what they do, see things that haven’t happened yet?”

“Well, that’s just gift, isn’t it?” Sasha asked. “Is every seer a mage? Battle, or otherwise. Storm-monks, are they mages? The word is wrong. Codified by arrogant fools who think themselves rulers of this world. Who crowned themselves kings, and emperors, and then thought to sit above even these.”

“Then…why,” Samantha rubbed her forehead. “Why am I seeing any of this?”

Sasha stepped closer. “What, do I feel like?” she asked.

“Trouble,” Samantha snapped.

“Not an idea,” Sasha said with a laugh, stepping closer. “What do I feel like, near you.”

“Warm,” Samantha said. “A flickering flame. A candle, and wax. Something soft, and…molten dripping down.” She blushed furiously. “You always do this to me,” she muttered. “Even when you promised. You still did this to me.” She looked a bit hurt.

“I’m not doing anything.” Sasha said. When the look she was getting did not relent, she sighed and turned away. She walked to the other end of the wagon, and opened a trunk.

“Hey!” Samantha protested and marched after her.

Sasha ignored this, rummaged a bit, and plucked a hand mirror out of Samantha’s possessions. She held it out to the woman who just looked confused, to be handed her own mirror. Sasha dropped the lid with a clack. “If you won’t show me your secrets, perhaps you should see them for yourself. When you are ready, when you have pieced together the obvious. We’ll talk again.”

Samantha took the mirror, and Sasha moved to pass her. Their hands brushed, and Sasha turned, smiled, and kissed her pointedly before walking to the door. She unlocked it, and stepped out giving Samantha a curious look before disappearing.

Samantha marched to the door, and looked after the woman walking away through the empty market square. “What in the Abyss does that even mean?”

Sasha stopped, looked back, and laughed. “Whatever it is, I’ll wager three gold it isn’t as bright as you think.” She turned, and walked on.

Samantha glared after the sauntering, infuriating, whip-lashing woman. One who had long ago inserted herself into her life. When her glare fell to swaying hips she screwed up her face in annoyance, pulled the door closed, and latched it again. Quite ready to leave it latched for the night. She glared at the mirror in her hand, and the box on the shelf. It didn’t make sense, not the half of it. Yet either both she, and Sasha were mad, or there was method to her games.

Samantha set the mirror on a bunk, grabbed the cloth from the netting, pulled the box out, and set it on the floor. She closed her eyes, and took a breath. She checked the windows, to make sure Etore wasn’t spying. Looked around, making sure there wasn’t some person she had been ignoring, lurking in some corner. Her keys jingled as she unlocked the box. She opened it, and glared at the brilliant faceted teardrop. It seemed brighter than ever, which was worrisome. She turned, grabbed the mirror, and tried to figure out what the point could be. Then it struck her. She shifted the mirror till she could see the box over her shoulder. There it was, still bright as a candle flame, but not half so blinding as it appeared a moment before.

She spun, and found it there bright as ever. She got down, and put the mirror so that she could see the reflection of the shard beside itself. Seeing it directly, was far brighter, so bright it should hurt, but didn’t. She looked at the more tolerable, fathomless reflection, and understood. It wasn’t as bright as she thought.

Kiannae fussed with her hair in a mirror. It was a hand mirror, propped on the back bed of the wagon to give herself a makeshift vanity. She tried bundling it up, but she never liked it up, and it wasn’t bad enough yet to feel like an improvement. She was used to traveling, and her hair getting less presentable. Usually, she was living in the wild, among druids, or far from more social sorts. Caravans meant people everywhere, strangers and new acquaintances with potentially judging eyes. Though many suffering through the same troubles, at least the women. Few as they were.

She let the hair fall across her back, and ran her fingers along the white streak from her temple. On a level she kind of liked it, though not the memory of how it came to be. Failure, and death. Katrisha blamed herself, but if there had been two of them left standing… It was a struggle to push the pained self recrimination back. She hadn’t seen much point in dying it anymore, once Katrisha had seen how it had long since grown out.

The same gossamer as crowned Katrisha’s head, since she had managed to burn off all the mage blood in a last ditch effort to control a runaway aether tear. She’d done it, which was both impressive, and concerning. She wasn’t sure she bought Katrisha’s assertion they had created one themselves in their failure to have a proper magical spar. Yet it seemed foolish to deny the obvious. She wondered if what had formed between her and the spirit had been one. That it had countered the blight, almost as an opposing force. In practice the idea made sense, in principle it was absurd. Unproven theories, viewed with wide skepticism.

Kiannae closed her eyes, and reached for a brush, only to feel her hair shift aside, and lips find her neck. Her head leaned aside, and she opened her eyes to see Taloe in the mirror, knowing precisely how to distract her from intrusive thoughts. She couldn’t keep her eyes open long as he drew up near her ear, but said nothing, just lingered there.

Katrisha had been flirting in a way that left her little expectation she would return. Wren already had a room, for healing services, and had been staring at that slippery Osyraen last she saw. The third bunk in their wagon was taken up by cargo, and she could reasonably be expected to have the night to herself. Well. Themselves.

The ambiguity bothered her, but Taloe did not stop, and knew precisely how to distract her.

Estae 23rd, 655 E.R.

It was long after midnight, and true to expectations Kiannae had never been called upon to unlatch the wagon door. She had almost drifted off with her head on Taloe’s shoulder. Soft, smooth and warm. Her fingers traced skin that sometimes rippled like water beneath the track of her caress. He was drifting, on the edge of sleep, his form barely held together by magic he had learned from a dragon. He wasn’t big, or strong. Not compared to Kiannae at least, but he was a force of nature, one bound by will, some of it hers.

She could feel the entropic hum of a material form held together on borrowed energy. Burning chemical bonds in the air with his breath. She felt herself drifting into him, feeling the process, free oxygen escaping his lips, like a tree. How ironic. She could feel the fractal texture of his warmth, like a dimple in her own aura, a collection of her power. He existed by her will, but he had one of his own. He, pushed her to distractions, but they were wanted distractions. Something other than troubled thoughts.

“Talk to me,” Kiannae said softly, and felt an arm squeeze her more tightly.

“What of?” Taloe asked in a sleepy melodic tone.

“Anything, and everything,” Kiannae said. “I need to remember that I’m not alone in this bed.”

Smooth fingers traced her cheek, out her shoulder, and down her arm. “You are, my anything, and everything. Yet you are afraid to lose me, to yourself. I am afraid too, because I sometimes think the only thing that keeps me from being consumed by your will, is that you want me, as I am. You want, something outside yourself.”

“Is that what I have?” Kiannae asked. “I’ve begun to wonder. Wonder if like a child, I have an imaginary friend. Just one, other’s can see.”

“Mr. Tree was real,” Taloe answered, unfazed.

Kiannae sat up, and glared down at him. “The least you could do is be offended that I questioned your very existence.”

Taloe ran his hand along her arm, and looked up into her eyes, then down across her form. “You may question my existence any time you please, so long as it is naked, with this beautiful body in my arms.”

Kiannae stared at him incredulously, then slowly smiled, and started laughing. “So, playing the role of a man after all then. Boorish, and obsessed with carnal maters. To distract me from it all being just an act. No, I don’t think you’re real at all.” It was mostly a joke, but humor and doubt warred on her face.

He rose up, and put his hand on her cheek. “I told you, that my princess and I – poor Aeliae – we traveled to an island. The island of young lovers. My sweet princess, she knew what she wanted. I knew her nearly so well as you. I knew how wonderful it was to be with her, but not how oh so wonderful, it was for her to be with me. Though I am different with you, so soft, and smooth.” He bit his lip. “There was a time, that I could only feel your senses when you communed, but I have long learned to commune with you. I could be lost in you, but for your will, to have another. For me, to not become a mere extension of your will. Your love,” he smirked, “of my difficult streak, keeps me whole, and yet, oh so delightfully near.”

She found herself turning into his hand, and kissed the palm. He was a shadow to her, no matter how she communed. He could see into her senses, but the path was mostly one way, save desire. She couldn’t tell it apart anymore. It came from the heart of her, but that heart was him. A presence inside her own soul, that filled her with a sense of love, and connection. She tried, to open herself to that connection, and felt a rush of warmth through her, as a shadow became a wave of sunlight. Her own warmth, near him, mirrored in her senses. She fell into him, and found their positions reversed.

“My Aeliae was dangerous, but I loved her. Demanding, but I could return the same in kind.” He leaned down, and kissed her throat, and up to her ear. “And you, thought I felt lovely,” he whispered. His hand ran through her hair. “No, though time may tell another tale, I am not you. Still, I could certainly imagine far worse fates.”

Kiannae strode into the inn, and sat down next to her sister, and across from her brother, giving each a dubious glance.

“Enjoy having the wagon to yourselves?” Katrisha teased in response to the attitude.

Kiannae turned, and flagged down a waitress rather than dignify that with a response.

“I can tell you did,” Katrisha prodded with a disappointed purse of her lips. “Your hair is light and fluffy, and I doubt you tracked down a decent bath in this town. Must be nice, having a lover that leaves you fresher and cleaner than you started.”

The waitress gave the remark an odd look.

“Eggs, bacon, some fresh juice if you have it. Hash or vegetables, whatever you have,” she said ignoring her sister’s insinuations.

“Hash?” the woman asked a bit confused.

“Potatoes,” Kiannae added absently. “Don’t you do that around here?”

“Not a lot of potatoes in these parts, mostly grow imports like that near the capitol. I’ll ask the cook though, if we have any, and if he knows how to hash them, if you like. Might be pricey.”

“Vegetables are fine. In butter, with garlic if possible,” Kiannae said.

The woman nodded, and walked off.

Samantha walked in, and noticeably glared at Sasha, sitting alone at a table. Zale seemed to be making some case to join her. Samantha marched up, and Sasha gave Zale a sympathetic shrug before shaking her head, and waving him away. She gestured for Samantha to sit. This exchange drew Wren’s eye, but he looked back to his plate and picked absently at his food.

Zale looked to one side of the room, and then the other, and found all tables occupied in some form. Though there were open seats, at most. He looked less than pleased by any of his options, but turned back to the three siblings, and walked over to the table. “Room for one more?” he asked without a lot of confidence.

Kiannae gestured to the seat next to Wren. Zale sat down, and gave Kiannae a look, before shaking his head. “I know how to pick them, I really do. Prophecy cursed women bound at their soul to another man. Red sisters who play favorites for caravan masters. Bout two years ago I found myself flirting with a woman I could have sworn was a Lycian healer. Quiet, pretty, kept to herself. You don’t see a lot of Clarion women on the road, and, sure turns out she was. Barking up the wrong tree, again.”

A fox peaked up, and tried to paw a piece of egg off Katrisha’s plate. She swatted the paw quickly however. “You had your share,” she chided. “If you want to be cheap, and not get a whole meal yourself, don’t think you can steal the rest from me.”

Tock flopped his head on the lip of the table, and glanced to Zale who gave him a dubious look.

“Yes, not all trees are right ones.” He huffed. “You not un-liked. Just not like hou Kiannae look at you. She tricky, not like tricky situation though. Has enough. Her an trade queen. Her and nice kit,” he glanced to Wren, who stopped picking at his plate, but kept looking at it. “One tricky thing at a tine.”

Zale gave Kiannae a bit of a pained look.

“You gave me the look,” Kiannae defended herself. “She came to her own conclusions. Not looking for attachments, and all that. Being the sort of woman she is. Probably found that wounded act of yours, troublesome.”

Zale learned on his elbows, and rubbed his face. “I went a good many years a virgin, I can handle a few months to reach Mordove. Just, she was fun. Little scary maybe, but fun.”

“Scary?” Katrisha pressed curiously, and missed as Tock swiped a very small extra piece of egg.

“Swear she can read my mind,” Zale said. “Never heard of that really being a thing, outside of myths of course. All kinds of crazy stories you hear out on the road. Nothing ever believable though. I mean, it’s not like you mind her little games. It’s fun, just, spooky.”

Kiannae gave Sasha a suspicious look. “I never pressed Mercu about it, because I thought Carmine was just trying to ingratiate himself with me.”

“Oh, yes, let’s hear about your flirty prince again,” Zale said with an awkward laugh.

“There are seats at other tables,” Kiannae suggested, pursing her lips.

“Permit me a little humor at my own expense.” Zale sighed.

“Wren,” Kiannae started. “You’ve never seemed to want to talk about it, but, did you ever notice anything strange about Sasha. When she knew things she shouldn’t, or it felt like she had said something she didn’t.”

Wren looked a bit pale.

Katrisha reached across, and set her hand on his.

Wren shook his head, and closed his eyes. He looked up again pointedly. “Things like I saw when I held Katrisha’s staff?” he asked for confirmation.

Katrisha nodded.

“I remember knowing her as mother,” Wren said. “I just told Katrisha the other day, thought, maybe she told you.”

Kiannae looked confused.

“You’ve been so worried about everything Ki,” Katrisha offered, “and, it clearly was something Wren was not ready to spread around. I planned to ask him to tell you himself.”

“Do you,” Kiannae said, and hesitated. She took  a breath. “Do you remember, if Katrisha… I’m sorry this is horrible, but do you remember Katrisha being there.”

Wren looked pained.

Zale looked around the table at the tension, though utterly confused by the conversation.

“Yes, and no,” Wren said, and swallowed. “Not just Kat,” Wren said. “I remember both of you, and only one of you, and…” He struggled, trying not to cry. “Only a stillborn. She spent days crying on father’s shoulder. Names, they are just shadows on the wall, but the moments… Those moments that mean the world to you, and feel like your world has ended. Those burn through. Amidst that, if she, did anything like what I felt on the road, I wouldn’t have noticed. Being near her, filled me with emotions that tore my heart in half. Love, and jealousy, and confusion.”

He sniffed, rubbed away a tear angrily, and ate more from his plate.

“Ok, so, many questions,” Zale said flustered. “You remember your sisters never being born, even though you are younger than them? Ok, mother’s soul, I got that, maybe, I guess no one made it clear to me you have her memories, and she, and you, were with Sasha over there. Fates, what have I stepped in now.” He rubbed his brow.

“Pretty much,” Wren answered. “It’s only been coming back to me this clearly since the mountain, and the tree. Ever since I first touched Katrisha’s staff. Before it was, just after images, feelings, impressions, shadows of memories that didn’t fit.”

“Weren’t you two supposed to be the ones of prophecy?” Zale demanded looking between the sisters.

“Long shado’s,” Tock said, and stole the last piece of egg, even though everyone was looking. “At sunset, the shado’ is long, it casts all things.” He nibbled his stollen egg with smacking delight. He tilted his head that everyone was still staring at him. “All things cast shado’,” he said as though he was explaining something with it. The fox shook his head. “Does not translate.”

He disappeared beneath the table, and no one quite saw him leave.

“Talking foxes, and prophecy, just what I ordered for breakfast,” Kiannae muttered.

“Um, your eggs, bacon, and vegetables,” the waitress said setting a plate in front of Kiannae. “What would you like hun?” she asked of Zale.

“Much, much less complicated women in my life,” Zale said. “Barring that, what she’s having. Looks good.”

Samantha got up suddenly, and marched out of the inn. Zale glanced to Sasha, who was shaking her head.

“Much, less complicated,” he added as the woman gave him a curious smile.

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Commentary III:11

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Buckle up everybody, we’ve got sections this week:

  • What is Love
  • The Footprints of Giants
  • Lycian History
  • A History in Obfuscation

What is Love

I’ll spare you all the mildly NSFW stream of (seemingly vampire(?) themed) jump cuts that is the music video for that old song. Don’t think I’d ever listened to the entirety before, but repetitive as it is, I guess effectively I had. Still the lyrics hit well an unintended theme to fall out of the chapter, and so was stuck in my head by the time I was done editing.

I think I’ve said before that Order & Entropy isn’t a message story, in that I don’t write characters to sell a specific message, but to be complex, human, and ask questions. This is one that falls out easily. That Sasha expresses so casually in her way.

There are so many shadows cast here (in the sun or otherwise.) Let’s start from the top.

Etore is a woman who has seen a lot at a young age. She’s only a bit older than Wren. We don’t have a complete perspective on her past, but it is one that has left her suspect of everything. Seeing love as weakness, folly, and distraction, or so she implies. Dependence on undependable people at minimum ill advised. Subtlety and deception are her first instincts. Intimidation, hitting problems over the head, and sticking pointy objects various places the immediate fallback. Getting out a distant third.

Sasha is a cad, a womanizer, and a philanderer (look the roots up on that one, strange word.) Yet some of the description is ill fit. She has grace, poise, and refinement when it suits her. She loves everything, including making people squirm if she thinks they should get over themselves. In retrospect I understand, and don’t mind the potential characterization here that she could be perceived as jealous. I did not consciously think of it that way. Still, just because she is not possessive, does not mean she is immune to feeling loss.  In her mind (and mine when writing it) she is more miffed to have been left out of the fun, and perhaps protective in a strange sort of way. If that is any degree of self delusion, I guess is open for debate. Also curious about this odd character and intruding as she does.

Jumping ahead. Samantha is yet another face on the question. Her rocky connection with Sasha clearly gets under her skin. Her relationship with the troublesome woman has somewhat resurrected aspects of Kit and Etore that might have gone missing.  This is at once unintentional, and very self aware.  Something that just happened. These questions of what one feels when their attractions are mismatched to their ideas. Worse if one does not trust those instincts. Did the imp in a red robe make her feel it?

Let’s not neglect Kiannae’s voice in all of this. Woman who took the easy answer, but clearly there is something left there. Zale making himself scarce was a nod both to this, and not having time for his melodrama. For those who read the extra, did she choose, or let others choose for her? She has the most proprietary instincts in all of this. Suspect of the galavanting, careless way of others.

Wren and Kat, may not be so far off, though Katrisha has come to far more stable terms than her dear brother, who she worries for. Shadows of things that never were intruding. Wren has seen the shades of his mother’s other life, but has he been distracted by this, from his own? Sasha gives us the first clear statement on the point.

I could see it happening, as Sasha skirts staring into the abyss.  Sees worlds in which Kit lived, and had fewer qualms, and restraints than Wren.  I’m not sure how long this has been a thing, possibly since before it was a thing.  When I first considered making the younger sister a boy, the reality of alternate pasts and futures were already pretty well established.  The thought of Kit sill having existed, came before the final decision to make Wren a him.  Yet the final call that she did exist lingered in limbo for years.

We’ve now have a glimpse into Sasha’s damage, and Wren’s.  How the two have spiraled around each other.  When she left Highvale, Sasha was running from memories, and feelings she could not reconcile. Ghosts of another sort, around the cloisters new, small, and mysterious resident. She found distraction, and familiarity in the road, but also longed for a place to call home.

I think in some ways this chapter echos well throughout.  The collision of youthful love and desire with prophetic forces, and old souls. A dark reflection of Charles’ words to Katrisha.  Whirlwinds of chaos, and they don’t even know it.  Walking in the stride of those bound up in prophecy changes you.  Some might remember this implication in vaguer terms in the opening of Book I. Though applying the powers in play, to social games, we get glimpses deeper.

The Footprints of Giants

Let me get biblical just for a moment, to examine cultural context.  Twelve apostles who themselves became leaders, caught up in the mythology of the one they had tied themselves to.  Fishers becoming scholars.  Followers becoming traitors.  Every failure and success magnified through time, and enshrined in legend.  People have taken to arguing over the other Mary. Just an impure woman who showed proper respect to the lord, or secret mother to children of the divine one.  Arguing over the mother, if she herself should be deified. The father, the man who raised him, just caught in the tail wind in which he is rendered trivial.  So you raised the Lord, good job kid, now go back to sanding wood.

Sorry, sorry.  Perspective, that’s what commentary is for right? These analogues are not parables, just connections, inspirations, and explorations. Take nothing literal from it, because this is me looking back on what has come out of my writing, not recounting some foreword looking intention.

Sasha.  She continues to meddle.  To intrude herself on the larger story.  Here we see a mirror of Carmine’s flirtations with Kiannae. From the more aware side, and even how incomplete the power can be. Sometimes confusing even to the one cheating. Ground hog days in moments. Sasha, has no issue with pressing her advantage.  She also may be going a bit mad. Like Charles warned, cranked to eleven. Is she harmless? Can we call this malice? Predatory?

What even is a gentle predator, a parasite? What is a parasite, that goes out of it’s way to be beneficial to the host, a symbiont? I don’t know if the analogy holds up, but I find myself as uncomfortably drawn to her as Samantha is. She has gained a frightening hold over the narrative, much as she is clearly flustered to have lost her hold on others.

Certainly, I want her all at once to be sympathetic. However sometimes dubious. Here we start to finally see her pain, and the part that the story of this world plays in it.  I have wild ideas in my head at this point about how her fate plays out. Her ultimate destiny. It’s interesting, but I’m not yet convinced. Oh to hint at more…

Let me reveal a little detail about Sasha that I intend, but has only slightly made its way onto the page now, with her saying she is a caravan girl, born and bread.  Sasha, if needed, has the last name Highvale.  This was her mother’s name in theory as well.  Her mother is dead, and her father only saw her home to this extended family of strangers.  He did not give his last name, or speak clearly that he was the father. So, she embraced she was the bastard he treated her as, and took the name of a ward of Highvale.  Etore’s opinion caught in narration mostly hangs on dark red hair, implying Osyraen heritage, but she is far too pale.  An odd mix, she likely has both the Osyraen gene for red hair, and the Napirian one as well.  Rare.

Sasha. She was just an innocent flirty girl with a rebellious streak, and a taste for life, in all it’s wonderful ways. In spite, of what she lived. Yes, I think sexuality can be very innocent.  For that mater that innocent itself gets far too good a reputation.  The line between innocence and insensitivity is so narrow I’m surprised people miss it. After all, the expression children say the damndest things, comes from them not fully grasping what is socially accepted.  They haven’t yet picked up all the biases sure, but they also haven’t learned the consequences of their actions.  A little bias goes a long way, when you are innocent.

I feel like I’m getting my characterization on the mark for Sasha, I’m less sure about Samantha.  I think so, but, I guess it’s my characterization to define.  I’ll say again, I like Sasha, but she is a problem.  The crystalized essence, and sum total of gendered privilege, but not unaware of it. The sort that rationalizes their world view to be what they please, but not at heart cruel, and perhaps quite a bit broken herself.

When you stop feeling what you are getting out of a relationship is worth the trouble, you feel cheated. Sasha in the end hit her own problem on the head, and maybe she missed it, or maybe she finally saw through it. Because that was the tact she took. Seeing the side of Samantha that didn’t feel she was worth the trouble. If Samantha wanted equity, Sasha could try to oblige.

Lycian History

On the subject of parable, and analogy. I’ll say I’ve drawn a lot of intentional parallels, and there are moments in the the scattered scraps of the Red Book where some are laid out more plainly.  I intend there to be very much a dynamic of ideas of gendered, and other privilege in my treatment of gifted, and non-gifted. Yet it is a dimension onto itself, and these analogies are two way streets.  I am not selling these ideas with the story, but using these ideas to form that story.  I am letting a comparison that Sylvia Grey draws in her texts echo through my own writing.

The subjugation of the ungifted by mages, is the very model of how men have treated women. If we follow the stories of the Maji to their natural conclusion, perhaps then, in some bygone age, how women treated men.

It is the exertion of power, by the powerful, for their gain, and the becoming of our enemies, in these terrible endless wars.  Dragons now burn the world, and people see the war that was always here. Passing moments of peace, that are a lie, bought in slavery, to those who write laws, and so rarely follow them.  When the inequities become too great, then we have conflict.  To take or loose, rebel or distract.  Blood spilled, so that we forget who asked these hurtful things of us.  Men, and mages.

Call me an Archanist, I want no more part of the birthright of the gifted, save that which I seek earnestly for all. Long life, and health.

– The Red Book, Sylvia Grey

We’ll call that cannon for now.  Perhaps a variant.  Sylvia was not shy about editing herself, copy to copy, trying to perfect her meanings. Nor shy about jotting down the thought as it first occurred, and permitting the text to evolve, showing a conversation with herself, and growth.  Permitting others to follow her path, and her reasoning. Not always showing the perfected final version, but the process.

In truth I’ve misplaced another stab at this sentiment, so rewrote it for commentary, and went a bit farther.  The opening idea comes from some corner of feminist theory.  One that often gets criticized for reductionism of racial bias.  That assertion is that the treatment of women, is the model for all subjugation.  I take the critique of this premise as quite valid, to the point of obvious bursts of extreme racial cruelty. Yet patriarchal societies, and neighboring tribes have always been there.  Tribalism, so often loses to genderism.  Want the proof?

Look at the dog whistle we all forget is a dog whistle.  The trope of the one common thing between men.  “Women, am I right?” All these different men, different tiers of society, cultures, and privilege, they all nod, or laugh, and agree.  The pattern, over, and over.  Culture to culture.  Species to species in our fiction.  Race is a younger construct of othering than gender, which has always been there.  Real, physical differences, that do impact performance in various capacities. Why we have gendered sports still, and probably will for a very long time. It feeds biases. Patriarchy having arisen separately throughout a world in which men, on average, in physical contest have an advantage, and use it to mitigate every disadvantage. To hang onto that power. To claim superiority, and degrade all that is not them.

Sasha being so plain about prostitution must be understood from a perspective of how Sylvia founded her order.  The original Lycian cloister, known best as the Red Cloister, was an abandoned and unfinished Clarion structure, started, before Lycia cast out that element, by outlawing Clarion preaching or land ownership in the nation. This in response to their disruptive patriarchal rectification in a land with a ruling Queen, who pushed harder still, and enshrined inheritance of the throne to female heirs.

Sylvia needed followers, and means if she was to really build a new world. Her first wave of true disciples were prostitutes.  She even tried her hand at the life herself, a little more money to her dwindling coffers couldn’t hurt. Particularly with only tacit royal support.  Understanding those she was trying to bring to her cause, all the more worthwhile to her. She had a long history with such women.

Sylvia separated her people however from this past by a structural redress. One does not pay for services, one seeks room and board, amongst those far more amiable than the wider world. This pretense is huge in Lycian moral thinking. Those who have committed the lessons of the Red Book to heart have a view judgmental of the practice of outright prostitution, to some extent, but not to those who have or would practice them. These factors have lead to the slur of all Lycians to call them whores, and harlots, demeaning even that they might want for themselves.  You see this from Arlen during the wedding party back in Book I. From challenges brought before the King and Queen later. Even the Queen’s own biting words to Renae.

Sylvia’s second wave of disciples were apostate Clarion women.  Who brought with them structure, and some social influence. So her writings are filled with an openness written to both of these.  To women coming from having their sexuality be commerce, and those coming form having it be a grave flaw in their being. Men of the order have largely been grand-mothered in, but there were a few who found their place even in the earliest days. This in part, in the Red Sisters, and Sylvia’s own writings give us the miss matched term of Sisterhood. (See feminism.)

We also get all the more clear an impression of Sasha’s intelligence.  The flighty, playful woman, has spent her life dedicated to the philosophy of her texts.  Trying to understand, herself and others. Well reasoned, whatever you think of her reasons.

A History in Obfuscation

There are a whole lot of scenes from the recent and farther past I’m sitting on, trying to figure out what to do with.  Places I am at once drawn to and deeply reticent to go.

Still, we now have something of an outline of Wren’s missing years woven through the chapters.  Going back to Book I, and Audrey’s comment about Sasha, who encouraged her to take the chance with Wren.

The trope of a man wanting what Wren got for his birthday, but it all going wrong. Because the truth is, when something works better for one person than another, it doesn’t always work period. Which should not portray Wren simply as some naturally monogamous waif, with a bad habit of barking up the wrong tree, but an individual of complex, and textured feelings on the mater. A clash of social ideas, instincts, and attitudes. It’s not impossible he is drawn in part to Etore because her gift for going unnoticed calls to him as a kindred spirit that sometimes just wants to disappear. Just a thought, as I write this. I’m a big believer as I’ve said before of having many motivations for actions, just some clearer than others.

Audrey was always the woman she is.  Her first love was Kit, her first love was Wren.  In either world, she wanted to follow the Lycian ideal, of sharing all that she was, with the one she loved most.  A bisexual woman, with a wide open heart.  Who believes the ones she loves, deserve the world.  Such things have a reputation of never working, and being misguided.  I think the rate at which they go wrong is at minimum n*p.  Where n is the failure rate of any relationship, and p the number people involved. Which just by the by, there is a non zero failure rate with one person involved, cause you know you get on your own nerves sometimes.

Yes you are scrapping a few failure points in theory, but in practice you are putting them under strain if they can’t be removed from the equation.  Jealousy is the most obvious one.  The least obvious is added by the fact that some relationships work best, or work primarily because of a foil.  This is common all the time in friendships.  People who work, mostly with others in the mix, but one on one, they kind of drive you crazy.  In situations like this, if one relationship breaks, it can pull the whole thing down a dozen different ways.

Red Sisters partly resolve this by being in a monogamous relationship with polyamory.  That is, they don’t dedicate themselves to two people, let alone one. They love broadly, and deeply.  Fully, and not in the least possessively. They will have favorites, and most familiar friends, and make certain exceptions that some are always welcome. This is a collision with loving deeply. If one really loves multiple people dearly, and physically, while not committing to them, it creates an understanding. A natural outcome, but not always clear from the perspective of outsiders. When one is with a Red Sister, one may find themselves also with their favorites. (See Sasha’s you are always welcome.)

Red Sisters restrain themselves greatly, not however so much in content, or quantity, as responsibility, and necessity. The needs of life, take priority over the joys of it. That their number may be greater. Responsible hedonism. Further, one does not intrude unwanted.   Where that line lays is abstract.  The Red Robe exists to signify; please, bother me, I’m seeking attention.  The white though, is always an option.  To seek solitude, and contemplation.

Sasha is literally a problem among the Red Sisters.  Yes, there are a lot of scenes kicking around, such as the night Sasha intrudes on Laurel and the Sister working on his tired muscles in the courtyard.  In which Sasha gets rebuked rather sternly for her lack of patience, or consideration.  Which is to say one can’t call Red Sisters women with the sexual morals of a man.  They would be insulted. Most are women who believe they have the better sexual morals.  Who hold themselves to a high fidelity of being wanted, enthusiastically.  That even to use such influence as they can to raise that enthusiasm, should begin at someone seeking such attention, and respecting when it is not wanted. Sasha pushes those lines, but perhaps not as much as we think.

The double standards are sometimes more surprising than others, and polarizing often in unpredictable ways.  An older woman, is at once stranger to an audience rooted in patriarchal bias, and yet often less repugnant because of our gender norms around power dynamics. We accept her less, but often offer so much less spite. A woman is perceived to have less power or threat than a man in our society, to even loses power as she ages.  It widens our bands of gray on the subject.  Lets take a step back here, and see that many things are very different.

The power dynamic superficially between an older gifted woman, and a younger man are greatly exaggerated.  Gifted maintain much of their youthful appearance for decades.  So Sasha, in her thirties, is still not only bellow the social power decline threshold for ungifted women, but still in her ascent.  What is more it is a relationship tinged with matriarchal influence.  Meaning she really does have social power above him.  Though not like a teacher, or authority figure.  Sasha is just a woman of no great import in the cloister.  Pretty damn low in the hierarchy because of her behavior.  It’s an interesting framing to be conscious of.

It is worth noting here, Samantha is decidedly the older to Sasha, if anyone cares. Once had a fiancé who joked about cradle robbing me, because she was six months older.

All at once we look back to who Wren is, and the metaphysical aspects of the story.  Sasha, is older, yes, but Wren has his mother’s experiences buried under there.  Powers no one understands, and an intense living gift.  The best analogy I could start to come up with in our world would be a thirty something female research assistant, and a young prodigy at the head of their class.  Yeah messy analogy. I mean, they are the equivalent of practicing medical doctors in that world, though there are far more highly educated ones.

If anyone wants to do the math, it’s all in there. Age of majority in Avrale, roughly how old Sasha was when Wren was born. What the year it is now, and when the story started. I hemmed and hawed a lot about some of this. How comfortable I was with where the story wanted to go. How this framed Sasha. I asked a writing group, and you know what the most face slapping thought given on the point was?

In many cultural contexts, a boy of his age going after an older woman would be considered quite normal.  That bias is there.  So I accepted what had fallen out of so many intersecting forces. A whole lot is implied, but how much do ‘we’ even known about her roll in everything, or have we just jumped to conclusions.  Let me close on a rough draft of a scene that has been sitting around a couple years.  This happened while Wren and Celia were off in the orchard.

Audry was chopping carrots, and lost in thought, when a voice across from her caught her attention.  “You are Shandra’s girl, aren’t you?”

She looked up at the redheaded woman working across from her, who she was fairly certain she had seen many times, but never spoken with.  The woman wore a red robe beneath her kitchen smock, having opted not to chose a plainer working garment for light duty.  Instead displaying the symbol with pride.  This made Audrey blush, and look back down.

“Yes,” she answered, “I do not believe we have met.”

“No,” the woman answered, “we have not, formally.  I’m Sasha, I come and go. I left for the first time when you first arrived.  I’ve come to know your mother quite well though.”

Audrey turned even more red.  “I somewhat remember traveling,” she said making different conversation as she resumed chopping.

“I wish I could decide which is better,” Sasha sighed.  “Life here is comfortable, but boring. Life out there full of peril, but usually interesting.”

Audrey did not know what to say to that.  She hardly had meaningful context to offer, she didn’t really feel bored herself, just frustrated with little things.  “I suppose that does make sense.”

“You look to be blooming well,” Sasha commented.  This made Audrey even more uncomfortable, and her hesitance made her pause in chopping.

Sasha laughed.  “No dear, just commenting.  Much too young for me, perhaps in a few years, if you were to come looking.  No, just offering a friendly ear. I bloomed very early, probably earlier than your friend Wren.”

Audrey stopped, and stared at Sasha.  She was surprised, and a bit confused.  “Do you know Wren?”

“Longer than you have, technically.  I met him as a baby. He is a very curious case.”

Audrey did not look satisfied by this answer.

“Would you like me to tell you what I see?” Sasha asked.

Audrey was tight lipped, and then nodded.

“I see a young man, who has eyes for only his two dear friends.  Young, without context for what he is feeling, but unquestionably feeling it.  I see a young woman, not yet fully woken, that his eyes turn most readily to, and another brightly flushed with her early womanhood, who glances elsewhere, but who I think feels more than a Sisterly affection for her dear friend.”

“And you have seen all this because?”

“Because this place is very scarce on interesting.  Yet Wren, has always seemed to have curious events spiraling around him.”

Audrey sighed, and went back to chopping for a few minutes, stopped, and hesitated to speak again.  “You are right, I think, about all of it. I adore Wren, he’s not…like anyone else. I’ve also seen how he looks at Celia.”

“She isn’t ready.  The two of you have bloomed, she has not.  What is more, I have also seen where her eyes do fleetingly turn.  Wren may be a very unusual boy, but he is that, a boy.  I suspect it will matter.”

Audrey stared at Sasha uncertainly.  Her surface implication wasn’t strange to her, but she felt like there was something more there. “What are you saying?”

Sasha glanced briefly up from her work.  “That you may have an opening, and you should be prepared if it presents itself.  Because while I cannot be certain of much, in a few years, there will be more young women who might notice him, if that would bother you.  This place is lacking in interesting, after all.” She shrugged, and went back to her work. “It wouldn’t bother me, but not everyone is me.”

Chapter III:11

There is no wisdom in the love of vernal youth,
yet beauty abounds in the folly of such truth,
we forget ourselves when desire overcomes,
forsake adoration when the world overwhelms,

for all the wisdom age might show,
we lose the beauty, of the unknown,
how dangerous that ageless child,
behind weary eyes, still free and wild.

– Vernum & Anum, circa 230 E.R.

Shadows in the Sun

Estae 21st, 655 E.R.

“You’re walking well enough,” Sasha said, and Etore turned to glare at her fiercely. “Guess I taught him well, how to sort things out, after.”

Etore stepped towards her, and loomed over the impatient woman, but fear warred with the affront. Sasha stood against a wooden column. Seemingly indifferent to the spite she had inspired, and maybe even amused by it. Her southern skin stood out rather dramatically amid all the red that draped her. Hair and robe of almost the same crimson hue. She was an odd mix to get hair and skin like that. A woman of many lands.

Continue reading “Chapter III:11”

Commentary III:10

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A Weathered Road Indeed

There is so much that bares saying, and a lot which I question if I should. As is so often the case, the end of the chapter begs to be addressed first, and more than usual is hard to organize it all coherently, and resulted in cutting, splicing, and editing this particular commentary almost as heavily as a chapter.  Further aggravated by writing it early (two weeks ago) when I thought the broad strokes of the chapter were done.  Eh.

The first draft of the end of this chapter appears to be long lost, and so I cannot put a date to it.  The existing draft is 2015, but refers specifically to Wren in the title, and the earliest abstract was I am certain still Kit.  We have almost reached the point where we have perspective on the total ratio of pairings that caused me to upend everything, and nothing with that change.

For context however, let me jump back to 2005 (probably actually 2003,) and a non-cannon line that in all its subtlety still gets us where we are.

K’it had long since sauntered off with some other young woman to discuss the finer points of the less applied uses of healing magics.

The idea that Kit, the harmless one, the most girlish of the sisters would take it upon herself to seduce Etore, and worm information out of her has been the plan almost since I first set out to write O&E.  Take that as you will. I don’t avoid tropes like the plague, but I do love to subvert them.

There is a common piece of advice about how to write female characters well.  That advice is to write a character well, then make that character a woman.  This advice is sadly misguided.  Gender-blindness is ignoring the pressures and expectations a character lives under from birth. Foundational cultural forces that drive human behavior way bellow conscious levels. This goes for everyone, of every personality type, identity, and political affiliation.  You, and everyone you know will spend their life either embracing, or fighting not just one script they were handed, but multiple. So while it is an aspirational sentiment, it isn’t realistic either in the sense of writing, or what your readers are likely to hear.  I’d much rather turn things sideways, shake gently, and subvert expectations in one way or another.

Yes, of course you can ignore it, but pretending it isn’t there nagging you, coloring first instincts, making you rethink.  Culture, is itself an insidious force, and even if you write a character so abstracted from gender identity, you still wind up saying things in the context of your reader’s world view.  There is a difference between being someone, and being that person with the full cultural approval at a base level. Not particularly when we are living in an age where no one is getting clear messages any more. I like queer complicated characters. Read that word as you please, in the original delightful context like quirky, or in the modern context of gender and sexuality. I like characters who are not always comfortable in their own lives or skin, or if they are, who make others unsure.

We were always headed here, past this marker in the many idle thoughts that became a world.  The merchant at Silvercreek was written to establish Kit’s approach, and all the better Wren’s.  This chapter does not stand alone.  There was more I’d hoped to say but for pacing, and intervening events I needed to cut. Further while I have broad strokes, on some levels I’m not actually sure myself how this works out.  Don’t expect simple with these two, because I think I’ve only really started to get to really know Etore in the past year or two.

These events are a huge part of why Kit became Wren.  Because I had paired off too many women, it felt forced. There were other’s in the running, and some day I can discuss them all.  For now however; Etore could not become male without loosing something foundational. The underdog ascendant is not weak.  They are someone the world has told, that they are weak. Becoming the person Etore is, is not impressive because she is a woman, but because, as a woman, the world would have tried so much harder to make her someone else. Working against expectations, not capacity. Put a pin in that for ongoing future reference in my writing.

Which is not to say Osyraen women are expected to be blushing flowers, or timid.  They elevate the Ram (Osyraen sheep) which sport proud and prominent horns in all adults.  All at once Osyrae is where things chain reacted from.  Where the warrior class first embraced this new fangled thing called magic, and threw off the shackles of a shamanistic matriarchy.  It is a land with deep scars long healed over.  Kings on their thrones, and women in the shadows, playing the game they have been handed.  It was a woman who schemed to see Osir rise.  To break the tribal system, and make the Maji rulers, and not impotent intermediaries.

As a warrior, and a fighter, Etore skirts just over a line in her culture, not outright rebels against it.  Wren by the same token goes just beyond the pale for a Lycian man.  Neither finds themselves completely at odds with the construct they were handed, but not always comfortable.  Each is strange to the other, compelling but uncomfortable.  A miss match with any clear model they have to operate on.  Not that Osyraen men of the capitol do not tend towards pretty and proper, but they are very pushy and proud.  I’ve long imagined their culture as very late Imperial Britain, with some African and Arabic overtones.  They are actually one of the most advanced societies on the planet, and their arrogance is not entirely unwarranted.

Sufficed to say I’m a lot happier with Wren here in this old plot point. On the surface, the same old trope doesn’t just reverse, it explodes.  The pretty man, seducing the gruff mercenary. A woman of stern, and forceful demeanor, encountering a man who is using feminine methodology against her. Both entirely self aware of the situation they find themselves in, and refusing to flinch before it.

Etore may not dress to be seen, and literally wears the pants between them (oh robes), but she maintains long hair, that needs to be bound up in a fight, and she is always ready for one.  Her chest all the more so something to strap down, but her only dislike of the feminine attributes comes from the inconvenience of being a fast, agile fighter.  She is still in every respect a woman, and more so of her culture.

The first image I ever did of Etore was short haired but I fell in love with the idea of the pinned bun, and backup weapons. There were versions of the end of that fight with Cadith where we saw those nasty little barbs in action.

Wren, is a follower.  A man of the Lycian order who took in the message that women should lead.  As a man he was ever so subtly encouraged to be subservient to women.  Women, had all the power. Both structurally, and were free to be more overt with their sexuality.  No one told him not to, just observation, internalization, and dysphoria.  The feminine influences in him just make this more complex.  He finds himself caught in-between, not just two irreconcilable gender constructs, but a bare minimum of four.  The masculine and feminine both of cloistered Lycian society, and of the wider world that still seeps in around the edges. Probably a fifth for shadow of a Sylvan husband in the eyes of the woman who adored him.

Wren has spent his life so far falling in with older women. Socially, and romantically. Often more confident, but certainly with a degree more social power.  Even timid Celia, closest to his demeanor begins from a cultural construct under which she is above a man.  Men expected to desire her, she under no compunction to reciprocate. Which is good for her, because she doesn’t, and in Lycian cloister culture that is normal bordering on preferred.

It isn’t relevant to Wren, but men attracted to men still have something approaching stigma in Lycian cloistered society.  They are accepted, but acceptance is not the same as embraced, and much closer to tolerated. To some extent this is a natural consequence of their high-matriarchal construct. Remove a woman from the equation, and there is just innately less social power, and such a small sample size of representation.  I think Renae catches some of this in the extra Afternoon in Aldermor. Also Celia in Moonlight had something to say on the mater.

Ok, for sanity I’m going to back off this rabbit hole for now, because there is going to be more reason to further deconstruct Lycian Order social norms soon.  Also a lot of complex distinction one could draw between Lycia, and Lycian.  After all, while the Order is of Lycia, not all Lycians are Lycians, nor are all Lycians, Lycian.

As I’ve alluded to, if you write a man and not a woman, on some levels, if only in perception of your readers, you will get a different story.  A male character seducing with magic creates a greater (perceived) dubiousness, and helped me look at this sequence in a more serious, questioning light.  I was left with doubts, but embraced where I wound up. It also changes the characterization of the character in subtle reasons because it introduces new reasons (above) for Wren to do, and feel the things he does. Kit, following my own logic, having lived almost the same life would have come to this night with a whole other set of baggage.

Lets look at just a range of attitudes expressed just on the page.

Sasha, is utterly seamless about seduction.  Does it for fun, let alone more practical purposes.  We will get some more insight into her mind soon, but shameless falls short, she’s prideful about it. Not just in terms of successful, but rather believes that she is doing the right, and good thing.  She isn’t heartless, but if anyone is hurt over her because of an inability to come to terms with them self, it won’t get much sympathy from her at all.  Perhaps a bit of spite, rebuke, or a feeling she should help.  So a little sympathy, pity really.  Complex collision of emotions there, for how far on the one end we find Sasha. She embodies an interpretation of the writings of Sylvia, but even Sylvia would have found her trouble.

Katrisha is, more delicate, vastly less intrusive, but not that much different at heart.  She still has a lot more sympathy, and compassion for how imposing she can be.  She doesn’t feel so much righteous, as, defiantly who she is.  She’s not going to press if she doesn’t get a positive response.  Subtlety was important to her past affairs, but even once the Clarions were pushed out of court propriety dug its claws in.  This ripped Maeren away from her, and Celia wanted monogamy at heart. Katrisha wants to help, in much the way Sasha does, but without the judgement.  Yes, that’s fun, Sasha is judgey of others, for their prudishness.  Katrisha hesitates several times to engage in this gamble, but it’s not against her nature, just questionable in attitude to her.

It came a bit from a different place originally, and in a less dire span of time.  Sisterly rivalry between Kat and Kit, later Wren, all the more so.  The idea of him being a man giving an advantage irked her in that version.  Sasha wasn’t here, and now, inserted into the mix she becomes the perfect foil. Her absolute audacity framing everything in a new light.

Wren.  His empathy is off the scales. I think that’s fair to say.  I also think nodding to the opening of the chapter, and recent events here, that includes the rage of others.  He would have killed Cadith. He wanted to.  The sheer hate for what Cadith had done warring with everything else Wren is.  What he is feeling here about Etore, her past, or their future will have to remain ambiguous.  His own feelings certainly complex.  He has found himself as he implies unasked under the influence of another, but not unwilling.  Those are very different things.  One an imposition, the other an assault.

Kiannae sits at the far end.  Both bothered by the impropriety, but also the intrusiveness of the suggestion.  I don’t think this contradicts past attitudes she expressed in Thebes.  This is impropriety, mixed with manipulation, and the use of sexuality not just transactionally, but as a cheat.  She also finds the gamble itself offensive.  Treating it so lightly, and crassly.  To the point of actually moving to physically stop her sister.

I’ve been back and forth over the years how I feel about the aspect of gifted ‘seduction,’ and delved the hows, and the whys.  It rides a line right along with all seduction, really.  Seduction has always had various airs of ickiness around it. It is hard to separate the aspects of propriety and true morality here. A blur of subjective attitudes and details of execution drawing lines to be crossed or skirted. Yet it is hard to argue there is not something more, intrusive, about directly stirring the sensation of desire in another. Again, because Wren is now male, this opened all manner of pandora’s boxes in perception.  Some more favorable than others, and it felt worth examining.

I have complex feelings on the mater, and it remains very open in my mind.  You can come full circle here to the recurrent absurd pattern of women being blamed for men’s inability to control themselves.  Some have a very presence, that arouses others.  Some are merely attractive.  If you dress to be sexy, to accentuate your sexual traits.  Uses poise, carefully chosen words, coy behavior, and flirtation.  Is it different to alter your presence to be more appealing?  More intrusive?  A touch, is more intrusive.  Intruding on personal space is more intrusive.  Yet having a presence, felt at a distance.  Are you intrusive by your very existence?

The lines get muddy.  Wren here, does nothing actively more than brush the edge of Etore’s hand.  He does it intentionally, with the expectation of putting her off, but also the possibility it will have the effect it does.  I like this change from the original overt angle. Further that he, sensed something. That he sabotage others being more intrusive, and used a far more conventional gamble in part out of kindness.  Then a little nod to Wizard’s First Rule when she confronts him. Yes, that’s intentional. Lastly, it all becomes gravity.  Potential energy becoming kinetic.  Still, I permit all their opinion.  Think of Wren, Sasha, Katrisha, and even Etore how you will here.

Cough.

Yes, sorry we were in the middle of prophetic shadows, talking foxes, and political upheavals.  There it is, The Sun Civilization, Vhale (Thale,) Lynx, Lycos, Yaeun (Yun,) probably a couple others, all cannon.  Not just mythology, but stories with some connection to history.  We ‘heard it from the fox’s mouth.’  Yes, that is the way the saying goes in Helm, and several other eastern nations. Some know it comes from the myth, but most didn’t know it isn’t a myth.

Also world trees.  All the tropes.  Here I imply that Thaea was actually a tree, and if the myth is taken at face value, the first living thing, spreading across the world.  I’ll admit this was a somewhat new revelation to me, but not the underlying structure. That’s pretty spot onto long standing intentions. Now, something Kiannae is connected to has burst forth from the heart of a blighted land.  She has set herself to a path of taking a place in prophecy not ordained for her.  If it is to spare her sister, or become the more powerful one, she isn’t sure any more, and she may be winning.  Two parts terrifying, one part elating that.

I’m not sure Kiannae is clear on how she feels about the possibility of Wren taking either of their place.  Particularly, if it is some how her fault, or if she has been tricked.  Etore nipping around the edges though was really getting to her, particularly since Katrisha did not seem concerned. That her involvement seems less important, is an all too likely outgrowth of her power. She wanted out of that conversation, and to process, only to fall into issues with Taloe instead.

The secrets of mage-iron revealed, though it’s not nearly so simple as Taloe might imply, but it is the most crucial abstract element.  The most deeply guarded secret, though there are plenty of others.  Also, as implied all mage-iron is not created equal.  Not just emotion, but more esoteric patterns, and structures to accomplish specific purposes.

Further more confirmation from Maron that the Council is likely to be a problem, and not an asset when conflict reaches a tipping point.  That a war in their age could be untenably ruinous.  That bowing down, might be seen as the only real option.  Shadows of a true cold war scenario.  Implications between these threads of the plot I leave to speculation.  The Imperial Capitol was destroyed in the war, the largest city of the world reduced to rubble in an instant, and since then become a growing scar across the world.  An Avatar arose before the flames of a dragon.  Great blood and treasure lost to folly.

To have a pretender to the Stormchild prophecy running loose in the world at such a time is deeply concerning as Maron beats around the point to.  An official summons, a decree, that Katrisha is legally bound by as a sworn Council Mage, and which less certainly Kiannae is as a knight of two lands.  Just as an aside, this is a fast track to adornment as a Knight of the Empire, and in fact technically the laws are written that holding adornment in more than one kingdom makes one an unadorned Knight of the Empire by default.  So, technically, even though she doesn’t know it, Kiannae is actually more legally bound than her sister, as Maron puts it, between appointments.

I’ll be honest that many things have long been up in the air in the creation mythos, and I’ve always been fine with that because the mythology is supposed to be fragmented, questionable, and partly lost.  It’s always been my intention there is a more fundamental real background in this mythology, just the details have been in flux in my mind.  This is all pretty vague in the chapter, but indicative of a trend I have been moving towards.  An interpretation of how it all played out in the age of myths.

The Surge.  We finally get a name for this ongoing phenomena that has been mentioned as early as Book I, in the abstract.  A rise in potential energy driving other phenomena, and conflict. Dire beasts and blights. Mad prophets, and the powers of war. Like the sun baking the parched forest. Eventually, it only takes a spark.

Any way, there will be a lot more to say on a lot of these topics after the next chapter, about half of which used to be in this one.

Chapter III:10

Past is predictive, if we do not learn from our failures.
Human nature, invariable, in its endless complexity.
Ambition in every calm day, a wolf circling at the door.
I swear myself, not as your king, but Grand Imperator,
to a Queen, who proved the wolf may yet be tamed.

– Coronation Speech of Emperor Corinth, 1 E.R.

The Road Behind

Estae 1st, 655 E.R.

Katrisha wove through the crowd, and threw her arms around her brother, lifting Wren clean off his feet. He hugged her back, but there was a laugh behind him, and she set him down to stare over his shoulder at a redhead in a crimson robe. He gave Katrisha an uneasy look, and her questioning glance was cut short by the woman.

“Quite a sight, sister tossing her brother about like that,” the woman remarked. “I quite approve though. Darling man that he is.”

Continue reading “Chapter III:10”

Writing for Foxes is Hard

I’m almost certain going to go back and edit up exactly how the foxes talk in Chapter 9, and I’m working on codifying the pronunciation rules.

First off though, an abstract look at things that might effect what and how they saying things beyond physicality.

Torta are rather prideful in some ways, because they have lived in the shadows for so long.  Pulled so many strings.  They are proud of their ancient racial heritage. Their claim of saving humanity in a great war that even they do not really remember.  Copies, of copies. Degraded as any oral tradition over hundreds of generations.  Deformed in the same way our memories become.  Exaggerated, lost detail, but over very long periods of time.

Further Torta cannot be properly understood either as individuals or a collective.  They have a fuzzy sense of self.  Between each other they can be selfish, snide, and snippy. Far more so than we can be be with ourselves.  They have a couple extra levels of consciousness, not just the conscious, and the subconscious, but the extended conscious, and the the meta-conscious.  These representing the web of their expansive knowledge, and the collective impact of each animals subconscious on the whole.

They do have their own language, which I won’t ever try to portray directly, and only abstract as animal sounds.  They also speak Sylvan, which I’ve realized does all sorts of strange things to later plans, but I’ll work with it.  Now why, given they share knowledge, do they have their own language? Quite simply, how else were they supposed to talk to themselves? Torta internal monologue is dialogue, and often gets externalized.

Again, they are not one individual, but many individuals with a communal knowledge base. They actually do have to argue out conclusions, often, and let us not discuss flame wars in foxspace. Let this never be mentioned again.

Torta speak strangely not just because of the physical impairment of making lip sounds:

  • b -> d

  • f -> h or th

  • m -> n or h

  • p -> k, t, or d

  • qu -> k

  • v -> th

  • w -> hu

But also because they avoid words they cannot say well, and try to pass it off as cryptic, and mystical.  They know the words full well, and how they should be used, but have adapted around their racial speech impediment in manipulative ways.  I won’t drop it here, but I went back and checked what the somewhat arbitrary Torta would mean in Sylvan, and it works out interestingly.

Note: the pun of kitting, is something of a common Torta joke.  They can say ds, but ts are easier, and foxes have kits, who are not as bright as adults, and easily mislead.  Torta love to play tricks, and young kits are not as good at knowing they are being fooled with.  Slow to access their communal knowledge.  They tend to use kit generically for child as well, since certain words like pup, become gibberish; kuk, kut, tuk.  Tuk would probably be the winner, but instead they would chose to say child, or kit.

If Torta find no better way around it, they will replace sounds in words in the least confusing way they can think of, that sounds the most like the word.  The first fall through on mother would be nother, this however is ambiguous, so instead they fall through to hother.  As in Hoolth Hother, Wolf Mother.  Their speech also tends to sound forced, in the literal sense of wheezy, breathy, or squeaky.  Still working on the vocal cords, and a lot of the muscle memory is up to the individual animal.  Their vocabulary is global, their pronunciation local.

Torta know how to read several languages, most of them dead.  One or two there is little to no extant material evidence of, and their memory is fragmentary at best.  As such there is mostly only the Torta’s word that the language of the Sun Civilization (Rhanskrit) even existed, and any attempt they might make to recreate it sloppy.  The Imperial dialect, and Sylvan are at least still useful.

In Torta Speak:

Ith Torta know†1 no other huay†2.†3  They change†4 sounds in talk†5 in least contrary†6 huay†7 thought.†8 Nother is contrary, hother†9 is less not understood.  As in Hoolth Hother.  Their talk tends to sound harsh, in literal sense of heesy, yaaahny, or eeeeeeky,†10  Still etholthing the throat cords, and a lot of skill is to each Torta.  Language is all, talk is each.

†1 Silent letters will be left in just to minimize the degradation of the text.  The Torta know they are there, you know they are there, neither one of you say them.  Though strictly I’d say the w in know should be formed by the lips it just has little impact on the sound.  I’d be curious how many people make an aborted w motion with their lips saying know.  I also find my tongue does things around the silent k too, funny that.

†2 Dropping way here is hard to not sound clumsy, so a clumsy huay will do.

†3 Torta make more full stops creating clipped sentences.  This is lung capacity primarily. Oh how the grammar obsessed will cringe.

†4 will and replace are both problematic, change carries through fine.  Another reason for fragmentation in Torta speech is pauses to find alternative words.

†5 so many ws so little lips

†6 contrary is easier than confusing, contusing?

†7 Manner? Nope. Wrong? Nope. Incorrect? Maybe.  Ah screw it, we already have huay.

†8 Dropping detail an excess. Torta try to speak less, to have less chance of stumbling.

†9 Speaking of words they cannot speak is, pedantic, as they speak.  Getting straight to the point that nother makes a poor choice.  Wolf is I think almost fifty fifty with holth or olth.  Neither is really more ambiguous, but if you are already saying another w sound back to back, consistency.  Holth hother.  Again other won’t work, even worse than nother, so a consistent pairing of hs for ws.

†10 Torta are likely to just make a sound rather than describe it.

Commentary III:9

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Not What the Fox Says But How

So.  Torta.  It happened.  Knighted wolf, why not.  Shark jumped.  Oh, who knows, the closets sharks are a very long ways from Helm’s Hollow.  The Hidden City.  Helm, as in helmet has a meaning coming from hidden.  Too clever by half, probably.

Cadith is a pieces of work, but we covered that. His babbling is not overly clear, but paints a bleak picture of the poor soul that died at the back of the caravan during the second assault.  A captive, probably from one of his previous expeditions, conscripted for the safety of the one source of kindness left in his life.  We’ll never know much more I don’t think. Though, who knows, The Rose of Osyrae is likely, and contemporary with Book II, and the gap to Book III. However much Cadith has been impressed by Sylvans, he found them very human in their weaknesses. To bend, under the same pressures.

Mage-iron is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while. Mentioned (I believe) offhandedly during early Book II. Mage-iron is something of a poetic in the sense of “irons” as old restraining devices, but often somewhat literal. Any ferrous metal technically works for the enchantment, but iron is preferred. Modernly steel with its iron base.  As implied, enchanters have jealously guarded the secret of the process for countless generations. This is a pragmatic fear that if it was too widely known, mages might begin to find ways to subvert the effect, and become impossible to contain. So while the guild has no enumerated powers to this end, if there have been assassinations, powers that be were likely complicit.

Cadith, with decades of experience being imprisoned has either reverse engineered what he needed by experimentation, or more likely acquired the information by being feared more than death.  Maybe a little bit of both.  He’s Helm’s problem now. Though what anyone will make of a Sylvan Temyn claiming (or denying) that he is Prince Cadith, that’s an open question.

Ok, ok. Torta. How did we wind up here? Dire creatures, escalating powers. The thought I think first crossed my mind back in Thebes. That foxes are known to be clever, and that the adaptations of dire creatures, are driven by instincts of need. In theory direness, and self shaping are a practice, and one that primal animal drives can arrive at naturally. All dire creatures are more clever than common beasts. So the thought occurred to me, what would happen if a creature known for being clever had the gift?

Intelligence tends to win with gift, but with very tiny brains they needed to make a leap.  A hive mind of memory, but still individual animals. From there they learned to understand, but not to communicate with people. Speech is not just an intellectual endeavor. Adapted vocal chords were the first step, and with careful tongue work were good enough.  They struggle though with lip sounds.  Fs, Ws, Ms, and Bs fall away, and get replaced.

So, I tried to talk without lips when writing all their dialogue.  Originally I had one explaining that Lunka’s mother learned her gift from them.  That is still my intention, but left some of the longer speech out, to trim down on the awkward fox talk.  Maybe it will come up again.

I’ll be honest, I’m not fully sure how the Torta revelation goes. A wild card shaking things up. More natural outgrowth of where I’m going, potentially subverting plans in unknown ways. There are ways this fits into the grand scheme of things that I have only begun to consider. I mean, they do undermine the monopoly of Amberite on long distance communication. That’s something I need to consider. Also which is easier to suborn. The Torta who have some kind of collective will, and are innately only so trustworthy as the individual or the group. On the other side amberite, which is flawless, unless re-attuned.

And, Kat being Kat.  Fates, this set of scenes is so old, though lots of little details have shifted.  Did I stick the landing on my intent?  Does it feel forced?  I don’t know.  It’s always been my intention that she tends to seek affection, and human contact to counter the parts of her reality she struggles with.  That if she must be the hand of death, she turns desperately to the joys of life. I may revisit some of her phrasing here, but then again she’s drunk, perhaps the ham handed feel fits.

My earliest understanding centered a bit more around an idea of grounding herself, against the chaos that her magic represented. The madness in her blood. Still, it was very much about life, and death. Kindness, and cruelty.  This isn’t the life Katrisha wants, this isn’t who she wants to be, but what other path is there? Because surrender to the will of others is more anathema to her nature. If the world will bring war down upon those she loves, then how could she do any less? It just makes her need all the more to be herself in the calm between storms.

The woman who fought a dragon naked. That misadventure made Katrisha indelible in my mind. Yet, if I’m honest, this is the Katrisha I’ve always loved. The dichotomy of her existence, and nature. Trying to reconcile her identity. I may share what happened that night. It may bare saying because it has more to express than the obvious. I don’t know. I struggle a lot with the arbitrary lines we draw. The death and war so easily brushed aside, yet kinder things can be so much more questionable in the public eye.