The First Time We Saw Her

A quiet house, a quiet street. These are rare things in the gnome city of Spice, the Underneath Wonder, the Kitchen Sink of Possibility. Gnomes are not known for their reserve or their placidity – not in architecture nor  in decorum.  An odd race with preposterous origins they delight in creation, invention, and discovery. Each house an adventure, a riot of red brick and gleaming neon next to a circular wooden palisade surrounded by orange roses. A miniuature castle built on top of a slightly larger castle, a tree fort where the leaves are kites, an empty grass lot with nothing besides a red sleeping bag and fifteen gray rabbits nibbling away. The streets of Spice are equally as likely to feature a nude poetry slam, an impromptu cooking contest, a cross-city game of Freeze Tag, and a hotly contested riddle-sing as the mundane traffic of work and market.

In the City of Oddments, normal is the bizarre. In the Town of Tura-lura-ay, quiet is an unwelcome stranger.

But still, a quiet house and quiet street. The house was large, a sweeping bluestone with wide windows. A friendly place, a children warren, the marks of young gnomes are everywhere in forgotten chalk drawings on the walls and semi-functional doorknobs and shower curtains wrenched askew by the unknown sagas of youthful adventure.  Perhaps it is the late hour that makes it so quiet, even gnomes must sleep – the better to dream a better world to make when they burst forth into the waking hours of their lives. The scratchy symphony of a double-dozen snores came from the open windows. The children are asleep, all the lights are out, it is quite late. Perhaps this is why it is so quiet in the quiet house and the quiet street.

But that is not the reason.

One window glows golden in the cool evening. A golden doorway, soon darkened by a crouched, dark shadow.tumblr_mgqcbmR67N1ro1qj8o1_500

Carbunkle looked up from his chair and hookah without surprise. The shadow hesitated at the window-sill, seeming to dim the shining lamp-light. The Black Moon was full, or Maero as her name was now known. The old librarian could not see the moon, but he knew it was there all the same. Just as he had known the quiet and made sure his sometime-squeeze Scarlet and her filthy monkey would not stop in for a visit tonight.

“I’m always a little surprised to find this window open,” the shadow said, flipping its legs over into the room.

Carbunkle said nothing, just took a slow drag from his hookah. This conversation, or one like it, had repeated itself a few times across the months and years, his visitor would come to the point without any assistance.

“Yes, I know I always say that,” black-glass eyes glittered with ferocious amusement. “As I know you take great delight in thinking yourself the cleverer one.”

The shadow edged itself into the room, keeping one claw on the window sill — as if for comfort, to keep escape close at hand. It wore only a scrap of  white fabric, rough-edged. It’s skin was obsidian. It seemed to find the simple lamplight disgusting, like a haze or foul stench.

“I don’t even really know why I return here, why we have these little chats from time to time. I have work enough, great works and discoveries beginning to bud out there in the world. I and my brethren sing to the moons and dance with them. It is so beautiful, so beautiful. I wish you could see it, it is ..astonishing..no more, an astonishment. Wonder, endless wonder spreading like ivy across the unknowing world.”

Carbunkle began to reply, but his shadow forged ahead.

“I often wonder if yours was the better choice, but when I doubt I just look on the face of my Dark Lady. And then I am sure.” The shadow smiled and cocked its head to one side. “But on some nights…like this one…”

The old librarian nodded agreement from his chair. They both knew what night this was.

“Do you still remember…” the shadow reluctant turned to look out the window. “Do you still remember the first time we saw her?”

Carbunkle sighed and nodded.

“Please. Please tell me,” the shadow implored. “I know I’ve asked this again and again, but tell me. Tell me again. This time I’ll remember, this time I’ll hold it longer. I remembered the anniversary, I remembered the exact day. The day she died. This year, at least.  Now please, please tell me.”

The old librarian looked at the dark thing, at his shadow, at the Other Choice and made himself smile. He smiled because this pain he understood quite well.

And so he told the story again. About Saraghina, the Sorceress Supreme. The day they saw her walking through the library, how they saw her pull a pack of ginger cookies from her sleeve and nibble on them as she read,  the greatest wonder of all  – that such a luminous being could eat cookies and spill crumbs and be real. He told the story again in the quiet night, on the quiet street – between golden lamp and dark moon. The two remembered together.

And then the shadow was gone and Carbunkle locked the window tight behind it.

 

Egads!

2014-03-05 17.08.32Aye, forsooth! This bloggery has been a trifle thin of late. I come not to praise the lapse, but bury the hatchet. Your gentle author’s head is o’er crammed with projects both mundane and fantastical and time to devote to this shining square is easily counted on the head of an ant. [ITS REAL SMALL SON.] Worry not for things of great import and moment lurch forward to the flimsy present. A special discount on the Spell/Sword ebook next week. Editing on The Riddle Box continues apace, a rare life appearance in the misty future.

Hold me in your hearts if we be friends, or at the very least in your gentle kidneys if we be casual acquaintances.

 

Titan’s Wake – The Story So Far

tumblr_lmoz6uD8h21qc2q5co1_500

Shining cities and tower tall,
broken at its feet they fall.
The Titan, red ash and smoke
in Cataclysm’s voice it spoke.
Then nothing but sand and wind
and death.

Then at last in caverns deep
The dwarves were first to break their sleep.
Their Empire rose in steel and stone,
bending all hidden in sand alone,
to kneel and bow to
the Lion Throne.

The Roots of Stone patient stand
until Dragon curse from human hand,
bit and tore at Secret Seal.
Druid-child born to heal,
led companions brave
across the sands.

There they found in canyon’s peace
a giant with crystal-heart to cease.
Bitter miles and hidden fear,
full of doubt but purpose clear.
They broke the heart,
to break the curse.

No curse they broke, and cursed their own
The sacred Roots a tomb of stone.
By Dragon-Word they slipped away,
awoke in chains both black and gray.
The Machine-City of Zero,
where the Dream sleeps.

Tales they heard and songs of light,
their learned much of Zero’s spite.
A story of a different sort,
the gods own ruin by Dreamers thwart.
Undo the Titan, free every mind,
at Dragons’ return.

With brittle lies and fortunes blessed,
the heroes fled from the Dreamers’ nest.
They brought their strange tales and questions meet,
to lay at Sunset Company’s feet:
The Final Seal is found,
Zero rides.

Under sand and over stone they flew,
up spire and in air they knew,
the Temple Unknown, invisible and sure
they fell upon harsh knowledge, pure.
The Mask of Six found
a new bearer.

And there they fought against the Dream
Red blood flew against Sunset’s gleam.
Fleeing death and Zero’s might
the Mask unleashed a blazing flight.
Far to the west,
beyond the moon.

Led on by words of sleeping hand,
they journeyed west to a frozen land.
Beyond the desert, beyond the glade
Seeking for both Guide and Blade.
In Raven’s Hall,
they claimed them both.

Snow and mountain spire,
their path lead to secret fire.
A hidden temple amongst the snows,
where secrets wait and death’s wind blows.
The machine flickers to life,
and the Mask shines with fervor.

Careful now, you heroes bold
for what you find down in the cold.
It’s hidden heart slowly beats
Power does not die, it only sleeps.
Words and tales and songs and lies,
the empty choice is hero’s prize.
Make your way or make your grave,
the blindfold-man is Fortune’s slave.

Love and Parallel Dimensions

Let’s talk about love and parallel dimensions.

I’ve had a theory for several years that it is far easier than one supposes to slip between alternate worlds, through the membrane of reality between eyeblinks. It happens all the time and most people rarely notice because the worlds we flip between are ever-so nearly identical. Here there’s a red house and there it’s blue. Here my keys are on the table, but there they are on the hook. Has that McDonalds always been there? Did this shirt always have a black stripe? We travel when we sleep and things are almost the same when we open our eyes.

Almost the same.

You find yourself talking to a friend, but things seem strange. They know you from Universe 247B, but you are remembering Universe 8-Jacket-907. Are your memories congruent? What’s the margin of error? In Plato’s Cave are we remotely seeing the same shadows?

I like this theory a lot. Maybe it’s because my memory is  a constantly rumbling Etch-a-Sketch, or maybe it’s because I lose things all the time, or maybe it’s

Artist - seventypercentethanol
Artist – seventypercentethanol

because I feel a distance between me and most humans. Some souls are a little less anchored than others, more easily sent adrift through the worlds.

I also fear this theory a lot. One day I might slip too far. Open my eyes in a dimension where no one knows me, or a place where every ill decision waits to wreak itself upon my brow. Most people slip when they sleep, but some days every blink shows me someplace different. Every car ride, every corner turn, every open door a new dimension. I try to hold on, to navigate, to touch stone and remember. The wind keeps blowing, ceaseless and patient.

But then I see my Beloved.

Somedays I slip far away, even from her, but then we blink together. We blink together and I am home. And when we sleep we slip together and wake up someplace new, someplace stranger — but together. We blink together and we are home.

There are more worlds than this and we dance through them unknowing. A forever carousel of worlds and souls and change and wind. A single life can get lost so easily, spun out of the gyre into worlds dark and forlorn. It is only the gravity of love, the shining thread in the dark that binds and must not break. There are those who believe it immortal and inviolate, but I am too full of shadow to agree. It burns all the brighter for its fragility, it holds all the stronger for how easy it is to shatter.

Thank you for knitting the cord with me, thank you for travelling so far with me. Across a billion worlds I prayed to find you. May the shortest distance between two points always be our thread, hand in hand we travel and I always wake up home.

I love you.

Blink with me and we are home.

Inevitable

We’re all telling the same story.

I’ve been thinking about the State of the Fantasy Genre intermittently, and I just had a thought-burst. We’re all telling the same story, the story of 1011841_189098384582884_536161209_nInevitability. Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, Abercrombie’s First Law, Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

And me.

The feeling of fate, of the dark steps at the end of the road pervades the genre — even me, who is supposedly some sort of bubble-squeak rebel scribbling graffiti on the overpass of Epic — I’m telling the same story.

To paraphrase Kvothe: ‘You know how it ends. It ends right here, with me telling you this story.” [Unless of course, Rothfuss has been misleading us all, and Doors of Stone culminates with some version of Kote yelling ‘It’s Clobberin’ Time.”]

I don’t necessarily think this is a new convention in fantasy, Tolkien and Howard laid that ground for us long before — but it feels kind of strange to feel the same cobalt melancholy hanging over so much of the field. Is it because we’re all too cognizant of the gears and automata of storytelling? Or are we all just too jaded to tell a story with a half-way decent happy ending? From whence this kamikaze-love song with the grip of Fate?

Maybe just a function of maturity, of most head-and-shoulders artists hitting the success point when they’re old enough to feel the turn of the earth in its gyre, the dusty cobwebs of age long since gathering.

Or am I seeing a correlation that isn’t there? I know the story I’m telling, the strange and dark end of my Heroes. It sits on my shoulders like a black iron mantel. So tempting to change it, to have it come out better — or cheat the very fabric of the tale.

 

 

 

 

The Riddle Box – 300 Words or Less

A manor. A murder. A mystery. The doors are closed, best keep your eyes open.

Jonas and Rime arrive at the House of the Heart-Broken Lion, interrupting a play and an opulent dinner party. An actor falls dead on the stage, the doors

Gustave Doré Plate XX - “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69
Gustave Doré
Plate XX – “Lancelot Approaching the Castle of Astolat,” circa 1867-69

are locked, the authorities summoned. Rime has one night to solve the mystery and escape before too many questions are asked and her wild magic is discovered. Jonas is just excited that there’s really good cheese.

Thirteen guests in the manor. All the doors are locked. One of them is the killer. Can she solve the case before dawn?

A sea-elf shaman, a wood-elf scholar, a bard with an electric guitar. A gentle priest, a vicious trader, a rude dwarf who does not speak. These guests have secrets, could there be a secret guest?

Blood in the shadows, a killer stalks the halls of the Heart-Broken Lion.  How can Our Heroes triumph against a foe that neither spell nor sword can catch?

  • Secrets of Jonas’ past revealed!
  • [Not all of them, but, you know, some!]
  • Rime has a crush!
  • Cryptic clues!
  • Red herrings!
  • Partial nudity!
  • Bedroom hi-jinks!
  • Sweet guitar solos! [Described.]
  • A giant cow!

A truly original mystery shamelessly cribbed from Agatha Christie, Colombo, and N.C.I.S. Fantasy fiction bent into a new, strange shape.

Can you solve The Riddle Box?

[Argggg. I hate writing ad copy. This is my first stab [of many] getting Riddle Box into something easily marketable. Back of book, Amazon description, etc. I am shit at the elevator pitch — comments and reactions very much appreciated!]

Riddle Box – Opening verse [Sketch]

The door shuts

behind you

and you sit down

at the banquet

and sit down

at the show.

Have you come to play a game?

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

All the pieces

are marked

all the

clues

will  appear

one by two,

two by one,

running through the

weightless halls

of the manor.

You have come to play a game,

the killer and the killed.

Blood on white marble,

blood on shadowed wood,

blood on blood,

blood on fire.

The game has come to play.

Follow along, the string in your hands,

the song in your ears.

Eyes sharp, hearts dark.

The two travelers step through the door.

The door shuts behind them.

Open the game and play the blood,

sing tomorrow and hold back the flood.

Welcome to the Riddle Box.

The Plague

The classroom was quiet. Bone-white desks faced a board groaning with chalk and time. The scholar sat on a stool and leaned on her lectern, sorting crisp paper into clean lines. Lecture phrases and lines of ink filled her head and she was caught by surprise when a young man cleared his throat from behind the second row of desks.

“I am sorry,” he said, hands locked around a scroll case. “Please…I am sorry to interrupt you, but…”

“You are not one of my students,” the scholar laid a finger to her temple, letting her mind settle and focus on the young man.

“No, I am not. I am visiting the city. My name is Lucas Grahd.”

Artist:  Charlie Bowater
Artist: Charlie Bowater

“And I am Prose Willow. You know this, of course.”

The scholar did not smile and neither did Lucas. Her face was sharp and severe, brown skin pulled taut. Long, tight braids wound in an ornate riddle.  The young man took a step forward.

“I do.  I came here looking for you.”

The scholar sighed. “Why, Lucas Grahd? Why at the end of the day do you tiptoe into my hall? The sun sets.”

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “I read something you wrote. The gifted man is a plague. To himself, to the city, to the world. What did you mean by that?”

“Most people pass through this world inert. The simple mechanics of society push them through and out, like stones through the belly of a snake.” Prose nodded. “But the gifted, the learned, the wise, those who can see. Actors and painters and sculptors and all the weary litany of those who shape. They affect the system, they touch things. They make, they mar. They change things.”

“Is it wrong to change things?”

“No. Not always. But the more you see, the more you move, the more you change the world, shape it with your choices. You begin to feel the weight, the weight of those choices. Is this why you came? This conversation?” Prose folded her hands and looked over her knuckles at Lucas.

“Not really. Maybe? I don’t know,” Lucas took another step forward.

“The scroll, then?” It was green with black piping, any distinguishing marks hidden by Lucas’ hands.

Lucas looked down at it, as if surprised to find his hands full. “Oh, this? No, I was just carrying this. I came to research a translation in the library, but I walked in here instead. I knew you were here, that you taught here, but I hadn’t planned on approaching you.”

Prose stood up, hands gentle on the lectern. The fading light in the room shot thin gold across the white desks and the young man’s face. “Are you a gifted man, Lucas Grahd?”

“Yes.”

“Then forego the illusion. No mystical force guides your steps, you are not perplexed, you are not whimsical. Why did you walk in here?”

“I want a sage,” the young man sat in the closest desk, eyes on the flat white, whispering. “Someone who knows. Someone I can ask.”

“Get out,” Prose Willow said.

The sun set.