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Geranium’s First Song

Watch all this wither

Watch as we gather

the leaves and grass

and broken things

threadbare heroes

and three-cross kings,

we sleep in the heart

we wait in the dark

until the cobblestones give way…

Watch all that glitters

Watch all that stains

the sun shines on the city

but tomorrow will rain

but tomorrow will rain

we dream in the earth

we dream of the sky

Green bone and promise

even blue dreams can die.

When the cobblestones give way

When the cobblestones give way…

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Lunch with a Villain III

I saw him a few other times. I carefully averted my eyes or tucked my chin to my breastbone. He knew I was there of course, but gave no sign. His narrow shoulders square in his brown cloak, his grin cutting the light from traffic signs, from reflected glass, from the glow of smartphones. After my narrow escape at the pizza parlor, I figured we were done with each other. He leveled a small shoe-store with his might, Chuck Taylors screaming in agony – I was in no hurry to repeat that encounter.

But still. You can’t just ignore your creation, villain or no. So yesterday when he swaggered into Popeye’s and took the booth catty-corner to mine I wasn’t truly surprised.

I finished my mashed potatoes and gravy before I acknowledged him. I would need the energy if it came to battle and it gave me a moment to collect myself. Plus I really like mashed potatoes and gravy.

“What?” I laid my plastic fork on the table.

“Why does their have to be a what? Maybe I’m just here to dine,” the villain scratched his stubbled cheek.

“Bullshit, what do you want?”

The villain hissed through his teeth, sucking in air. He seemed uncomfortable, pressing his abdomen against the garish plastic table. Waves of malice began to radiate, and his grin forced itself wider.

I did my best to remain calm. I looked him in his no-color eyes. “What do you want, Izus Torossian?”

“What do I want, what do I want? Oh nothing, nothing.” he crooned. “Or at least nothing I’ll admit to, nothing you’ll ever really give me. But I have come to bend knee, like the Daemon following the good doctor on that ship in the ice. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I…” A pang of sympathy and fear. “You…you want a new story, don’t you?”

The villain sprang to his feet, scattering napkins and packets of salt. His brown cloak coiled around him like a hungry thing. His grin was so bright and fierce it split the world in two. He did not respond, but the empty hunger in his eyes was answer enough.

“Uh..okay. I guess I can do that. A short story, a long story, a song? Cowboys, ninjas, corporate America? Where can I send you, Browncloak? What world can I lend you that you won’t break?” My forehead throbbed, but suddenly I knew. I heard the melody.

Izus leaned forward, the villain and fast food. We are close, he and I, he could see the road unspooling in my head. His curly hair crackled with eagerness.

“Okay, hear me out. You’re going to have to change a bit, of course. No magic where you’re going — and can you drive? How do you feel about vans…or station wagons? And I don’t think the cloak can come–“

“Cloak has to come,” the villain grunted.

“Okay, okay…we’ll work on that part. But, that’s not the really hard part.” I folded my hands with unease. “Izus, I think this time you may have to be the Hero.”

“Oh man,” he chuckled. “This is a terrible plan.”

-End-

Artist - Julia Starchenko

Gilead Excavation

[Some old words about Gilead - putting them here for easy research later.] 

The waters ripple, and Haskeer sees Gilead.

A gray city, made from simple stone. The towers and streets show signs of great age, and great wear. This is a place where it rains much, where the people must go to the walls to stand against an endless tide of dark. Yet in every eye, a fierce pride – a bright flame that burns against the dark. The people move about their day, and among them walk the men of the Legion. The Crusaders, the Swords of Iron – their cloaks white and blue. Their armor is brightly polished, but the paladin quickly sees the signs of steady use. Leather straps worn to fraying, dents in shields carefully beaten back to true, and burnished with care.

Pennants fly from the towers, each showing three swords bound in a circle, blue on a white field. In the streets Haskeer sees simple signs of nobility, peace and kindness. A young boy keeping his older brothers from harming a kitten, an old man doffing his cap for a passing milk maid, a portly baker giving barely stale bread to beggars in the church square. The quiet prayers at the temple of the Nameless God, the priests laying hands on their flock with the gentle touch of wise shepherds.

A king with a golden crown, white hair spilling down his collar – his family drawn close around a fine table. A plan is laid out before them, a bridge that needs building — the family laughs and argues good naturedly over the plan.

“This is Gilead.” the lady said. “The anvil where the hammer falls again and again, but the steel does not break.”

The lady smiles, one tear coursing down her face.

“This is Gilead, Sir Knight. You asked to see it. No other place in this world will ever be Gilead again. If you wish to see the place that was once Gilead, then look.”

A gray city, made from simple stone. The streets are clean, not a speck of trash or debris. Repairs have been made to shore up sagging towers and crumbled buildings. The devils move through the streets with frenzied care, putting each plaza and wall into precise, scouring order. The windows burn with red and green light, strange shadows move in complex dances of pain and perversion. Armies march in a rictus of order, regiments of the damned.

Pennants fly from the towers, each showing three swords bound in a circle, blue on a white field. The fabric is stained and tattered – a mockery, pulled from rotting basement and dusty museum to dance on the wind and laugh in the face of the defeated dead. An imp slices red dripping meat into squares to sear on an open flame, a winged horror cavorts with a brace of bound creatures on the top of a broad wall – it’s face twisted with lust, an obese monstrosity hangs sluglike from underneath an archway cramming stones wrapped in grass and goat-cheese into it’s ever widening gob. Tall, angular creatures move amongst the devils wrapped in long red robes – they are treated with deference, and are quick to punish any that do not show the proper respect.

A king with a crown of glass, grass-green skin and bone laughs in a high-backed wooden throne. Behind him in a circle of steel is bound a man of average height and average features. He looks up, as if he is aware of being watched and winks.

The pool ripples and Haskeer can see no more.

Artist - seventypercentethanol

Song of the Road – The Riddle Box

Song of the road, road made of song.
Who knew I would travel so long?
Stories and wind, campfire and rain.
When will I ever see my home again?
When will I ever see my home again?
 
Triumph and travel, teapot and steel.
Won’t someone tell me what I’m supposed to feel?
Lovers and liars, heroes and pain,
When will I ever see my home again?
When will I ever see my home again?
 
[bridge]
I walk through the sunshine, but only see night.
Even in the valley I stand mountain height.
Summers and Winters and Springs made of Fall,
The world keeps on turning and I forget them all.
 
Quiet and quick, I walk alone.
Who knew the cold could marry my bones?
Mud in the gutters, shadow and flame
When will I ever see my home again?
Never, oh never see my home again.
Never, oh never see my home again.
sitar

The Riddle Box – Music

“You know a lot of things. I say it, so you can hear it. It is very important that we all know this about you, yes?  You know a lot of things. Things and springs and wheels and the click-clack of numbers falling in a row. But music?” Geranium tapped a staccato beat, two fingers on the pulse of his wrist. “It cannot be known. You can’t contain it, you can’t weigh it, you can’t put it safe on a shelf or bury it down in a hole. There is a reason that the Songs of the Lost still haunt us, that the simple melody in children’s games hum and burn in our temples as we clutch the pension-staff and stumble our way towards the grave. There is a reason that I walk penniless and proud down dark roads, with only my guitar as companion, as every true Bard of Gate City must.”

“What does –“

“Quiet now,” the bard raised two fingers to his lips. “Listen and remember. It binds as it breaks, it slips up the tallest castle walls and shivers its way into the darkest of hearts. It burns as bright as the sun, warm as an oven while I stand on the stage. I sing and every eye is mine and every heart is mine and every secret unfolds and the music drinks tears and shines and shines and shines. One song, the right song, one song for every heart. Even if they’ve never heard it, even if the song hasn’t been written yet, there it is, quarter notes and red blood on the parchment. And when the wind is at my back, I can see it. I can hear it.”

The bard’s eyes shut tight.

“And if I can sing your song, I can break your heart.”

Rime interrupted sourly, “Ridiculous.”

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‘Gamer’ Has Never Been Enough

I’ve never liked the term ‘gamer’. It’s reductive and bland, all too obvious. A ‘gamer’- one who games, or plays games. Such a strange banner to throw up over our heads. I play most types – video, tabletop, mind, board, social, classic, etc, etc. etc. — but I’ve never been able to bend a proper term into shape for that identity. ‘Player’ sounds weird – and a little 90’s BET. ‘Gamester’ is lame and acronyms make the world yawn. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t that important of a question. Everyone plays games – all humans, everywhere, forever. There’s no need to draw a circle, no tribal totem to shake. 

But now this #gamergate nonsense.

These sweaty children smearing their foreheads with war paint and screaming across the digital savannah. Hatred and fear disguised as a righteous fury. They wrap their fingers around that empty little word ‘gamer’ and wield it like a cudgel.

You are using a meaningless word, which is appropriate for your drivel. Let me tell you a thing, let me whisper you one of the secrets of the clan you claim to represent.

‘Gamer’ is not enough. It is not enough name for who and what we are. We need more – more names. Mario. The Grey Warden. Dragonborn. Malrock the Magnificent. Lara Croft. Dogfish. Nathan Drake. Commander Shepherd. More names are needed, more ways to see the world. Terra. Samus Aran. Luigi. Wander. Sommerset the Stray-Dog,  Pac-Man. More names, groups, armies, comrades, unions. The Alliance. The Horde. Blue Team. The Lodestar Crew. The Turks. The Jedi Academy.

We are the dreamers, the walkers in strange lands. We are the people of Many Names, of Many Eyes, of Endless Lives. We are the point in the dark, the moving hand, the twist of the brain that learns and remembers. We learn, we grow, we return again and again.

This is who we are, this is who all humans are. And we who are so fortunate to play in strange worlds unnumbered are always eager for anyone who needs a new name. That’s all ‘gaming’ is really – another chance, another way to see the world, another chance to Get It Right.

So those of you hiding behind the word ‘gamer’ as an excuse for misogyny and intolerance – it’s time for a new name. It’s time to Try Again. You know how. It’s as close as the Reset button. If you are human, you play games. If you play games, you can learn. So learn. Do better. 

There is no banner. There is no tribe. Only you and your warped cadre bleeding and gibbering on the people who love what you love.

http://ben-andrews.deviantart.com/

Lunch with a Villain II

We met again, weeks later. Pizza this time, the shadows and red neon of the joint seemed appropriate. He was there first this time, leaning over the counter in whispered conversation with the bearded cook. I don’t know what they were talking about, but the cook clutched his pizza spade as if it was the mast of a sinking ship. The villain spun to greet me, bright smile flashing. He flicked his brown cloak in an unnecessarily dramatic way and left the pizza guy to drown.

“Hey, I got us a pitcher and a pizza with Too Much Goddamn Meat on it. You’re buying.”

I sighed and dug out my wallet.

After paying I slid into the wooden booth. My lunch date had his eyes fixed on the large flatscreen TV on the archway behind me. I noticed that his eyes were no particular color. Was that because I couldn’t remember or because I’d never decided when I wrote him? I stole his hair from May’s Adversary and his nose from an old black and white movie, but his smile was all mine – some bright, shining shark-thing from my interior.

“So, what does it mean to be a Villain?” I asked.

“Shh,” he held his hand up. “Wait until after this play.”

“You don’t know anything about sports. I don’t know anything about sports, so it stands to reason that you don’t either.”

“Ahhhh,” he waggled his eyebrows, line of sight still locked to the TV. “but I can convey a knowledge of sport. Just like I can burn children and fly. You can’t do those things, but you make someone who can. Just the tiniest note on the piano – ‘Our Defense is looking strong’ – and suddenly the reader accepts me as an expert, a true fan. They imagine all the knowledge that you can’t give me and I have it. I’m just an echo chamber.I reflect more light then I emit — HOLY SHIT, THAT FUCKING REF. He had control of the ball! Damn it.”

“Are you done?” I took a sip of the watery yellow beer.

“Never, ever done. That’s what it means to be a Villain,” the brown-cloaked man grinned. “But that’s not what you came here to ask.”

“It is something I’ve been thinking about,” I said defensively. “I think I only write villains – Jonas and Rime included. Some hard-hearted thing, some hatred of everything that shines – I think it comes from younger days, feeling outcast and alone. The good people are the popular, pretty ones – so who wouldn’t be drawn to a life of evil in the halls of Middle School. Anyone who doesn’t understand the darkness in the human heart had a good puberty.”

“Oh, fucking shut up.” the villain leaned forward and took a fistful of my shirt. “Fine, you want to talk? Let’s talk.”

The brown cloak spun and he tossed me through the thick plate glass that separated the pizza joint from the sidewalk. I choked and stammered, my head full of empty vibration. The glass had cut up my left arm, but not too bad. My lunch date stepped through the shattered portal and leered at me. He snapped both fingers and his palms began to shimmer, then burn with a green fire tinged with vomit-yellow.

“Do you remember how to run?” the villain asked.