20220106

a prelude for 2022

So, here we are, not quite a week into the new year. The snow is gone, the rain is back, and by now I think everyone has settled back into their routine after the holidays, more or less. It is time at last for some concrete hopes for this year. (I will here refrain from writing about the continued onslaught of bad news, just for today. I'm so tired.)

I want to write more. That's always a given. And I still want to create a place where I can put all of my writing, to finally retire this old place, to let Dreamers Often lie, as it were. Or at least to return it to its old purpose, of housing the little fractured vignettes and melodramatic microfictions of old. I talked about this last year and didn't get around to it.

Over the years I've had . . . several places for my writing. I had this place, which I've described; I had a domain name which I've since let lapse, which was for nonfiction and sometimes poetry; I had a tumblr, which I mostly used for poetry and other miscellaneous things; I had a Medium account, for nonfiction essays; I even used to post short fiction at fictionpress.com or .net or whatever it was, before I used to just shove them in Google docs and throw links around. (I think I still had the publication mindset: maybe I'll want to sell this, maybe some magazine will accept it. And having been on the "accepting stories" side of things, I really never ever want to put up with that.) All disparate places, for disparate fragments of my works and my self. All of that makes updating anything regularly difficult, and presumably makes it hard for anyone who wishes to to follow it.

So this place has been limping along, my oldest extant blog, doing the work of all those places, but still trying to hold onto that old identity. I want to put it all under the name of Vaudeville Ghosts, which . . . I don't know, it fits, I like the name, and those old stories deserve a place to live, too. (Like many early works, they're probably a bit problematic in retrospect, but I'd be lying if I said I don't still think they are some of my finest works.)

But mostly, even if I don't get around to that, I want to put out another short story or two. And finish working on some of the various other projects I have going on, or at least get enough of them together that I feel okay sharing it publicly. Maybe that sort of notetaking/worldbuilding scratchpad will be interesting to someone? Who knows.

I hope 2022 is treating you all well.

20211231

seas between us

There's been snow on the ground for just shy of a week now, and they tell me there may be more when Monday rolls around. This city isn't equipped for it, its department of transportation doesn't know how to handle it, and the forecasts are always so marginal that it's hard to ever really get it right, and so no matter how much there is it always seems the answer is the same: the city just sort of shuts down. So we will have a white New Year, I guess.


Even in the deepest, coldest parts of winter, when just stepping outside for a few minutes feels treacherous (all that snow becomes ice after a while, especially once the temperature has gotten above freezing for a day or two), though, some part of me always hopes it just lasts forever. The stark beauty of a world covered in snow contrasted with the ugliness of slush, the exhaustion, the dry skin, a city brought to its knees by the power of nature: how can you not, in that deep part of yourself, love it? Huddling under blankets with hot tea, manufacturing our own warmth since the sun has abandoned us: is that not beautiful?

It feels right, somehow, to have a wintry New Year's celebration. It should be cold: it is a celebration of the fact that spring is coming, a promise that from this point on everything gets brighter. We've left the religious festivals behind, now, and from now for the rest of winter we're on our own, with only our promises and our friends and our loved ones to keep us company.

It's been a long year; at this point they all are. It's been bitter and lonely for a lot of us, exhausting for all of us; as our institutions fail us one by one (or make their failures more manifest than ever), it's important to remember that the point of the New Year, of hoping that this year will be better than the last, has never been about hoping that the hand of providence or chance or cruel fortune deals us a better hand, but about cultivating our garden: I promise you, there is something beautiful near you that is worth celebrating and nurturing and holding onto.

And while the seas between us seem vaster than they ever have been, and while the internet seems most days to be best at destroying and obfuscating, remember that it has on some level helped us conquer the tyranny of distance. You have the power to reach across continents and speak to someone who is important to you or who has touched you in some way, right now.

So happy 2022, friends. I hope we all do what we can to make this one amazing.

20211227

2021 media list

Greetings, friends and enemies! 2021 is drawing to a close and this year I forced myself to attempt brevity here. This is everything I watched, read, or played this year (except for the things I forgot about, and board games, which I didn't start documenting until late in the year and incomplete lists annoy me; it also does not include things which I started and didn't finish, which in retrospect feels like an oversight). Asterisks indicate something that I am revisiting; bold/italics indicate a stand-out entry/something I would actively recommend.

FILMS, TV SHOWS, AND OTHER MOVING IMAGES

I liked most of the things I watched this year. Even the things I didn't put in bold were usually at least enjoyable; but a full list of bold text wouldn't be very helpful to anyone. I have a lot of thoughts about most of these; feel free to ask if you'd like me to delve.

RAN (1985)* - Kurosawa in color! A very bleak adaptation of King Lear; dark but beautiful.

WOLFWALKERS - Another beautiful animation from the studio that brought us The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea; very worth watching even though it's only available on Apple TV, which is a deeply unpleasant service to use.

SKELETONS* - A British dark comedy and one of my favorite films; hard to describe briefly but so worth picking up.

ENOLA HOLMES - A Netflix adaptation of a YA series, this movie tries a bit too hard; it's a solid effort but a lot of its aspects fell flat.

HILDA - A fantasy animated series about a young girl with a knack for finding trouble and magical creatures; strong themes of accepting and celebrating differences with light anticolonial undertones, but overall the tone is quite light.

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? - Technically brilliant for its time but almost none of this movie held up; it wasn't bad but I kept feeling like I was missing something.

PRINCESS MONONOKE* - A beautiful and dark animated film about nature and industry; it's iconic for a reason.

THE GOOD PLACE - A sitcom about ethics and moral philosophy that somehow became popular, this show does a lot of things well; it has a good heart and a strong cast of characters and it works well as an introductory survey course on ethics and moral philosophy.

STEVEN UNIVERSE* - A Cartoon Network show about love, friendship, and redemption which started as your garden variety monster of the week story; this show goes places and has a lot to say. One of my favorites.

STEVEN UNIVERSE: THE MOVIE* - Mostly self-contained but you'll need to watch the show to make any sense of it; it kind of occupies its own space but it's quite good in its own right.

STEVEN UNIVERSE FUTURE* - The epilogue to Steven Universe goes hard into trauma; it's hard to watch but such an important sendoff to the series.

HAMILTON - A bit too neoliberal to my tastes but it's well-crafted and well-structured and it's a more human and less propagandistic take on the Founding Fathers (tm) than you'll get in most American high school history classes.

PERFECT BLUE - (Very big content warning for violence and sexual assault) Satoshi Kon's debut film, this is a story about fame and identity and loss of self; some beautiful scenes and edits which really capture dissociation. Disturbing and thought provoking.

SEVEN SAMURAI* - One of Kurosawa's classics, a story about seven samurai defending a village of farmers from a bandit invasion. A very human story, it's a long one and probably a bit slow for modern tastes but it's so beautifully done.

BO BURNHAM'S INSIDE - A cultural artifact portraying one man's mental state during the extended lockdown of COVID-19, this comedy special is fascinating but definitely at its worst when it's trying to be a comedy special. 

MONSTER HUNTER: LEGENDS OF THE GUILD - Too short to be well-paced, this is still a fun animation for fans of the Monster Hunter series; I would absolutely keep watching these if they made more movies like this.

POKEMON ORIGINS, GENERATIONS, TWILIGHT WINGS, AND EVOLUTIONS - Animated shorts based on the games rather than the anime, these are interesting if you're into Pokemon; Twilight Wings is the best of these as it's doing something new rather than just revisiting moments from the games but given that they are all extremely short and free, they're worth the price of admission.

THE WITCHER: NIGHTMARE OF THE WOLF - An animated story about Gerald Witchman's mentor, it's a solid dark fantasy film; it's a little obvious in points but the fight scenes really showcase why animation is a great medium for fantasy action, and it has the right amount of gravity for a dark fantasy story. Solid.

MOANA* - It's a Disney movie; there are big heroic songs that get stuck in your head. I don't think I need to pitch this to you.

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS - Another Satoshi Kon film, this one is about the interplay of story and memory. It's sweet and well-paced and hard to describe in a way which does it justice, but this is probably the standout of the films I've watched this year.

THE OWL HOUSE - Portal fantasy done right, this series couples fascinating worldbuilding with fun characters and fantasy hijinx; really looking forward to more of this one.

STAR WARS VISIONS - If you ever asked yourself "What if Star Wars was an anime?", have I got the series for you.

POKEMON BLACK AND WHITE - I enjoyed this more than I thought I would; the formula still works. I think you probably already know if watching the Pokemon anime is for you.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS - A very fun movie, very different from the original Matrix trilogy; very meta and also I think specifically designed to annoy the angry twitter randos who are currently very mad at it.


READING MATERIAL (IT WAS JUST BOOKS LAST YEAR BUT ALSO THERE ARE COMICS HERE NOW)

I mostly read while commuting to work, so I go through books more slowly than I'd like. There's less bold here because my threshold for recommending books is a lot higher than it is for films and games, because of the time investment; maybe that's not fair, but then, what is?

BAD MACHINERY*, GIANT DAYS*, WICKED THINGS*, SCARY-GO-ROUND* - John Allison's . . . do we call it the Bobbinsverse? I love his work and it's been influential on my style as a writer. Character-driven comedy.

SILK & STEEL - A short fiction anthology about princesses and sword lesbians; if that sounds like it would appeal to you, you should probably pick it up.

WE ARE BECOME PALS - A Joey Comeau book about two best friends getting into trouble. Fun and whimsical.

SEVEN DEVILS - A sci-fi adventure, the first half of a duology the second half of which is due out soon; has a cliffhanger ending which left me feeling a bit left in the lurch but it's a solid read.

GOD BLESS YOU, MR ROSEWATER* - One of Vonnegut's books that stuck with me from forever ago, about a billionaire heir who tries to use his fortune to help people. Didn't stick with me on the reread as much as it did the first time but still worth a read.

MONSTROUS REGIMENT* - A Discworld story about how blind tradition holds us back, featuring some great characters.

GOING POSTAL* - The start of one of my favorite Discworld series about a con man forced to turn straight by running, in this instance, the post office. 

THE TIFFANY ACHING SERIES* - Discworld's YA series; I like the main series better but this does solid work.

LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES* - Pop history about American Revolutionary hero Lafayette, this is a fun look at a character we don't hear much about these days

REAPER MAN* - One of the earliest of Discworld's Death novels and the one where he learns the most about being human; still enjoyable but Pratchett's later work is stronger. I think this is the one that introduces the Auditors.

THIEF OF TIME* - One of the first Discworld books I read, this one will always have a special place in my heart; Susan is always a fun character.

THE INSPECTION HOUSE: AN IMPERTINENT FIELD GUIDE TO MODERN SURVEILLANCE* - A short read looking at surveillance through the lens of the philosophy of Michel Foucault and Enlightenment writer Jeremy Bentham, this is educational, quick, and very readable. Highly recommend.

THE TERRA IGNOTA SERIES - This is unquestionably my standout read of the year; science fiction with a philosophical and historical bent, raising a lot of interesting questions and imagining a future society which feels both novel and believable, neither a utopia nor a dystopia. Also features a narrator who is both very unreliable and extremely present, which I love.




VIDEOED GAMES

Not nearly as many indie games on here as I'd have liked; hopefully next year will be different.

POKEMON: LET'S GO EEVEE - Aimed at people who haven't played Pokemon since Gen 1 but maybe did play Pokemon Go, these games are an interesting entry in the series; they remove some depth that I like but they are still pretty fun, especially if you're in the audience I described.

POKEMON SWORD* - Despite being flawed in many ways and clearly a bit rushed, I really like Sword; it has a lot of things to like about it and brought some innovations that I hope stick around.

SPLATOON 2* - I love this game; the single-player campaign is a solid 3D action platformer, and the multiplayer modes are a lot of fun. It's a tactical team-based shooter in a really fun new(ish) IP from Nintendo.

SPLATOON 2's OCTO EXPANSION* - If you liked the single-player campaign of Splatoon, may I suggest a longer, harder, more innovative version of that?

PERSONA 5 STRIKERS - I was expecting this to be your usual "disengage brain, stab hoards of monsters" Dynasty Warriors adaptation; instead it was a worthy sequel to Persona 5, with some surprising depth to the combat (but more grinding than I would have liked). A surprise hit for me.

THE ACE ATTORNEY TRILOGY - Puzzle/mystery games with a fun cast of larger-than-life characters, the mysteries are compelling enough to make solving them feel worthwhile and the clues are placed and paced well enough that getting stuck isn't a problem. A few problematic characters but overall a really fun experience.

MONSTER HUNTER RISE - The best feeling entry in the Monster Hunter series, with smooth combat and great movement; it's telling that the most common fan complaint is that there isn't more of this one. Highly recommend.

APOLLO JUSTICE: ACE ATTORNEY - An attempt to reboot slash continue the Ace Attorney series with a new, more boring protagonist. This has some unique ideas and the non-Apollo characters are still pretty fun.

ACE ATTORNEY: DUAL DESTINIES - A refinement of the Ace Attorney formula, with more focus on the trials and less on the investigations, which both helps and hinders this one. If you've enjoyed the previous Aces Attorney you'll probably enjoy this one, but you probably knew that already.

MONSTER HUNTER STORIES 2: WINGS OF RUIN - Monster Hunter's entry into the critter collector JRPG genre, this game is a hidden gem, with a lot of fresh ideas, some fun characters, and some great refinements of the first game. Plus you don't need to play the first game to appreciate this one. Everyone wins!

POKEMON UNITE - A surprisingly fun MOBA with a deeply predatory freemium interface that ultimately turned me off it; I consider picking it up again every now and then but that interface was extremely hostile.

THE GREAT ACE ATTORNEY 1 - Kind of a prequel to Ace Attorney, this one is more grounded in history and darker in tone; it has some great moments and some really badly paced cases, but it's a worthy entry to the series.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD HD - Some of the best dungeon design in the Zelda series meets a shockingly linear overworld; the HD remake removes many of the common complaints about the original game but, while it does improve the controls, doesn't manage to make them feel actually good. A flawed masterpiece and one of the strongest narrative entries in the series.

METROID DREAD - A great action-platformer disguised as a Metroidvania, movement in this feels amazing and the combat is tough but fair. The game often feels like it's on rails, but there's good reason this game won awards.

POKEMON SHINING PEARL - Solid remakes of the gen 4 Pokemon games, which I haven't played; it does some things I don't like and some things I really appreciate. I think it may stick to close to the originals rather than modernizing the old formulas, but I still had fun with these.

POKEMON Y* - I've probably replayed X and Y more than any other Pokemon games; invariably if I get on a big Pokemon kick I end up running through them again. They are easily my favorites in the series and I think they are vastly underappreciated.

INERTIAL DRIFT* - A cool retro-futuristic arcade racer with a unique two-stick drift mechanic (one stick controls the front, the other controls the back), this one is a constant go-to, and grinding out better times is extremely satisfying. Some of the cars have a bit of a learning curve. The Switch version is extremely crashy but other versions, I am told, run fine.

20211202

a prelude for december

I've always wondered how common unusual weather is. Apparently the warm weather we're experiencing to welcome in December is approximately as unusual as the nightmare heat storm that afflicted our region this summer, and that certainly seems like a lot, but it's so hard to be able to tell if this particular historic event is historic because something unusual is happening or historic because if you roll the dice long enough you're bound to roll snake eyes.

All of which to say, it was warm today. Almost sixty degrees in December in Seattle, which . . . is pretty warm. It was a strange way to start the "winter", especially since we'd already had a fairly cool October and November; but we've also had a lot of strange winters lately, from last year's record-breaking snowstorm that lasted a single day, to the endless snow of a few years ago . . . it's just that this time it's nice. Somehow that's more unnerving for me.

The plague continues apace; winter means more cases, which is bad, and there's a new variant which seems to be evading the vaccine, which is bad, and also for some reason we're still holding Emerald City Comic-Con this weekend, which is buck wild, but they seldom consult me for these things, for some reason.

I suppose I should make a note of some more personal news, not really related to our ongoing boring apocalypse: my father is doing quite poorly. He was diagnosed with some form of dementia sometime around 2015 or 2016; it was a slow decline for a while, but in the past year or so he has both mentally and physically declined quite rapidly. Some part of me wonders if our boring apocalypse has played some role here, that a year or two of isolation and decreased activity has contributed to this acceleration, but there's no real way to tell.

It's hard to watch someone who used to be so sharp and so active lose so much.

20211102

a prelude for november

And so we bid a fond farewell to October, and welcome in November, ever the herald of winter and darkness--here in Seattle, it's a month of bleak rain, a month of storms, a month where all of autumn's bright colors begin to fade and we are left with the endless grey. It's hard to be fond of November, but winter has its place, I suppose.

I think I've mentioned that I've been more interested in reading history recently; this interest started with reading Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, which draws a lot of very deliberate inspiration from the Enlightenment, and my realization that I knew almost nothing about the Enlightenment, despite the fact that so many of America's foundational ideals come from there. And with everything that's happened over the past five or six years, I found myself drawn to that. We can learn a lot about who we are by studying where we came from.

Of course, if you study the Enlightenment, you quickly learn that they built on the works of authors like Locke and Hobbes who came before as well as on the works of the Renaissance and, of course, the classics; and then reading about the Renaissance is fascinating in its own right (starting with what is a revelation to many people who haven't studied it that it was actually kind of a shitty time to be alive, even slash especially in Italy, the place where it all happened), and . . . I have a lot I want to read.

I mention this because the story slash world I'm working on (and have been for years, yes) feels like it should take some notes from all of this history, all of these ideas that change society. Because what interests me most about history, apart from the wacky stories and things that sound straight up made up (Venice and Florence both have some really buck wild aspects about them that I really want to delve into), is how ideas shift and change.

Part of it is that I've been trying to build up this world's history, at least partly so I can have some wanderers from its future walk through its ruins and try to piece it together. I know those two characters well, even if I don't yet know what their story looks like. (That wasn't quite the original story; there was always a Princess who, in her hubris, drowns a city with a Spire, and the world falls apart with it. Exploring the ruins, though, has always fascinated me.)

There's still not much to be said about the ongoing pandemic, our boring apocalypse. There's a new vaccine mandate locally; and maybe the vaccine numbers will go up as a result; the daily cases have been very, very slowly trickling downwards. Downtown feels more or less back to normal now. I doubt that there will be anything interesting to report on this front for some time, though I suspect I'll get a cold at some point, which has transformed from an unfortunate occurrence to an exciting development.

So, time to pull our coats tight and march onward into winter. Winter seldom gives us much choice.

20211031

twilight

I always liked twilight; it's the time of night for storytellers and liars, that time when our eyes convince us we can see perfectly fine, that the encroaching night hasn't yet robbed us of our ability to perceive things as they really are. It's so much easier to lie as the little details fade into the grey light of dusk, as the shadows conceal just how strained our smiles are . . .

It was one of those late summer twilights where the nights are just starting to get cool, offering tantalizing hints of the autumn to come, that Nevena asked if I still trusted her. Of course I said yes, and of course I immediately wondered if she had somehow detected that we had, as it were, lost faith. But she seemed comforted by my answer--or maybe that, too, was a lie. "I'm glad to hear you say that," she said. "It's good to know you have my back."

The deepening shadows continued to gather as I stared at them, trying to divine their secrets. "We've been through so much together," I said, the lie falling conveniently onto my tongue. "I think by now you've earned some trust." 

In the half-light, she looked more severe, the shadows giving her strange contours. It cast an edge to her smile that made me uneasy. "If only everyone were as loyal as you," she said. Was it sincere praise? Was it a wry condemnation of the fact that even as we spoke I was wondering how long it would be until I betrayed her and how deep I would thrust the knife when I finally did? Either way, those words cut deep. I forced a smile and thanked the gloaming that she wouldn't be able to see how much effort it took not to cry.

Then she shuddered from the growing cold--she always did like it warm--and stood up and put a hand on my shoulder affectionately, like she always used to. "It's a shame summers always end," she said.

And so I was alone, if anyone can call herself alone when surrounded by a thousand shadows that stretch and transform. I welcomed those shadows as friends, safe in the conviction that, for now at least, they would conceal the quiet weeping and give me time to compose myself to maintain the lie through the lonely depths of night and into the harsh light of the day.

20211030

aurora

I'd been sent to the frozen south partly, I think, because my superiors in the Order didn't particularly like me. Too many opinions that, in their eyes, nearly crossed the line into heresy. (This was outright slander, of course; my opinions had all well since crossed that line, but they were not imaginative enough to see why.) But there were pre-Spire relics there, and given that the church's influence there was weak . . . well, someone had to go and make sure these pagan relics and blasphemous texts were properly sealed away.


In the days when the church was run by zealots, they would never have dreamed of sending someone like me on such missions. But now, even the Order's ecclesiastical hierarchy was filled, not with those who seemed the most pious or the most devoted, but to those who were most apt to doing the political bidding of those in the position to appoint them, and the most prestigious (and lucrative) positions were those where they could be the most useful politically. Censors in the major cities, scholars at the biggest libraries . . . of course they sent people to the south as punishment. Of course they didn't consider that sending their most heterodox and iconoclastic thinkers to a place where the church's influence was almost nonexistent would backfire.

I thought at first that they were simply not thinking clearly. But I realized, one night late in the fall--already those nights were bitter cold--when the whole southern sky seemed to dance with a strange red light, and my host, at my astonished cry, simply said, "That's the aurora; it happens sometimes"--that they were afraid. These chaotic, joyful lights, in their minds, could not have been the work of their creator, who tamed chaos and brought the wilds to order. Another wonder they'd suppress if they could, I suppose.

20211029

last quarter

The Princess was quite drunk when she found me--I didn't even know she was in the city. Last I'd heard her attempts to besiege the city had failed and her armies were in full retreat, and her generals . . . she shouldn't have been here. At first I wasn't even sure it was her, but she has a way of filling the room with her presence even when she's lost control of, well, everything.


I helped sneak her onto the roof of the theatre, and she passed me a bottle of wine and stared at the moon. "I used to like the half moon," she said. "It felt uncertain, like it could be waxing or waning. So much potential."

I took a long drink of her wine--even disguised in a city where she would be killed on sight, she drank far better wine than we mere performers were permitted to touch--and said nothing, but she seemed to accept that as a response. Or perhaps she was merely soliloquizing; I certainly was no stranger to that.

"Then I learned how to tell." She scowled at me, at the world. "There's no potential, just ignorance."

Then she turned and looked at me, suddenly urgent. "You have to leave the city tonight." I opened my mouth to respond but she put her finger against my lips. "No arguing. No questions. Promise. Pack up and leave tonight."

Did I even have a choice? "I promise," I said, because standing up to Nevena when she brought her entire presence to bear on you was impossible--or maybe I really did sense the urgency there. Maybe I didn't need to ask questions to understand that she would drown the city that night.

So I did. I fled the city, and I was only able to convince some of the others to join me, and we left by the light of that waning moon she hated so much. Word of the calamity wouldn't reach us for a few days, but still every night I'd look at the moon and think of her and wonder what terrible thing she was contemplating.

20211028

shooting star

 A shooting star landed in the village square, once. An impossibly bright streak tore through the sky, and I was already on my feet and running when I heard a resounding boom a few seconds later. And I didn't stop running until I reached the square, where several other villagers had gathered around a little crater, maybe a few feet across, that had formed in the cobblestones of the square. There was an almost reverential silence among them.

They looked up at me as I slowed to a halt--they never did quite see me as one of their own, but here, I think, they were glad to see me. They stepped aside as I walked up to the crater, still out of breath, and knelt down next to it. It seemed to glow faintly in response to my presence, and as I reached for it--"Careful, girl, it's hot"--it actually leapt into my hand. It was maybe the size of the closed fist of someone with larger hands than me, and it was indeed hot. It should have been too hot to touch, but somehow it didn't scald my hands.

I stood up, holding it in my cupped palms, and the villagers backed away as I turned to face them. "New life," I told them. "It won't forget, if you help it." Before they could respond, I said, "Give it some thought. I'm taking it back to my cabin." I prodded the edge of the crater with my food. "Not a bad place for a little shrine."

The old fears still lingered after the Spire fell, but they were slowly learning to trust the spirits again. I spent the rest of the night learning what I could about the new spirit, showing it the forest and the foothills. When I walked into town in the morning, a small stone shrine had been built at the site of the crater. I smiled and left the meteorite there, along with an offering of some of the coins I'd kept with me from my travels.

It felt good to be a part of something new.


20211027

cyclone

A cyclone hit the capital during one of our performances once. The opera house was in the new city, on one of the cliffs overlooking the old city, that impossible district that was reclaimed from the ocean at the city's foundation. The insistent howling of the wind had the audience on edge as I sang, and when someone ran in and shouted that the city was flooding, the panic drove most of them to run outside and see. We crept our way up to the rooftops to watch.


The rain was heavy enough that I was soaked immediately, despite putting on a cloak before going outside, and the wind made just staying upright difficult. But with some effort, and bracing ourselves on the railings, we could see the old city, if only just: the waves crashing over the floodbanks, the water accumulating in the marble streets. People were fleeing, of course, and later the theatre's director provided shelter for those of our patrons who were displaced by the storm--a whole building filled with aristocrats, cowering against the storm.

I went back to the roof rather than deal with them. It was autumn, right at the time when the trees were filled with golden leaves, and in this terrible gale the air was full of leaves, dancing and swirling to the tuneless rhythm of nature's wrath. It was such a beautiful reminder that we exist at the sufferance of the storm and the sea, that even the wealthiest and most powerful of us must sometimes submit to the wind and rain.

Eventually someone found me and dragged me inside and forced me to drink some hot cider and change into something that wasn't wet, and eventually the storm subsided and the city recovered, more or less. And the following morning, the streets around the theatre were covered in a carpet of golden leaves.

20211026

waning gibbous

I was quite drunk the first time I met Nevena. I wasn't expecting to be forced to entertain anyone important that night but, well, the heiress of the Spire can do what she pleases. I was on the rooftop, moongazing, partly because too much drink makes me even less social than usual, partly because I like the moon, partly because I was just in a bad mood.

It wasn't until much later that I'd realize who she was--she was just another aristocrat who heard me sing and wanted to meet me; some hoped they could take me to bed, some just wanted to be able to say they'd met the theatre's rising star, and some presumably genuinely thought I'd be interesting. And normally I was--it's a professional skill--but normally I had warning.

"Waning gibbous," she said, and I just made an affirmative noise. She sat down next to me. "It's lovely, isn't it?"

I said nothing. If she had something to say, she'd get around to it eventually. But I did hand her the mostly-empty bottle of wine I'd brought up here, and was rewarded with a laugh. "Drinking in silence it is."

And we did--or rather, she did. I'd already stopped for the night. But the moon was lovely, and despite everything having someone to simply sit with me and watch did make me feel a little better. "It is lovely," I said at last.

"It always feels like a shame, watching the moon shrink away to nothing," she said.

"I doubt there'd be many songs and poems about the moon if it was just full all the time," I said. "It'd be like a boring sun."

She laughed again. "You're right, of course."

The silence settled over us once again; already I felt more comfortable with her, despite myself. This time neither of us broke it until the cool night air set me to shivering. And I couldn't help but smile as she handed me back the empty bottle. "Sorry for drinking your wine. I'll find a way to make it up to you." Then she was gone, and I went back inside and made my apologies to the other members of our little troupe and made my way back to my sad little tenement.

I wondered who she was, what she'd wanted. She was a strange companion but, surprisingly, not an unwelcome one; and I wondered if, wherever she was, she, too, was still looking at the waning moon.

20211025

planet

I used to imagine, late at night, what it must have been like to be the first person to notice the planets--not in the sense that they are bright and pretty, but in the sense that they blaze their own paths through the night's sky. It must have been early indeed, before we had really mapped the skies, when we relied instead on memory to remember where the constellations lie, and someone finally noticed: that one bright star we noticed last night isn't moving with the others. Were they signs of ill omen, I wondered, or were they seen as trailblazers, guiding us into the unknown? 


We've mapped their courses now, of course. We understand so much more, even if much of that understanding is locked away in the mystics' observatories, unseen by lay eyes. And the planets, these brave wanderers, have taught us so much about the shape of the universe. The scientists know now that we do not lie at the center of the universe; the astrologers say that the workings of the heavens, of which the planets are key players, teach us a great deal about the workings of the earth. All of this because a long time ago some stargazer was curious about why that one star seemed different than the others.

In some ways it's strange that I've lived my whole life in a world where we've mapped the stars. Oh, there are new discoveries, of course, there is still so much mystery in the heavens, but I can point at that bright light in the evening and say "what's that one?" and receive a meaningful answer.

In a world where so many things have gone wrong, it's comforting to be able to look at my favorite planet and think of all the other people throughout history who have also looked at it, and been struck by its beauty, and were left with a lasting curiosity. We have failed in many ways, but at least we still have the stars.

20211024

rainbow

Sometimes, the sun breaks.

I watched the capital drown. I watched the floodgates shatter, and the ocean rush in, and from a clear blue sky a storm arose, blackening the sky and making a quiet morning into a tempest. I watched, in one terrible instant, the moment the old world fell. And I stood there, overlooking the city, watching, because what else could I do? What could anyone do? The wind and the rain and the thunder drowned out the sounds of everyone still in that city crying out in terror as the ocean at last reclaimed her own.

Then the storm began to diminish and retreat inland, and the ocean began to calm, and there, behind that bone-white spire that now jutted out of the ocean like a gravestone, was a rainbow. At the time I felt nothing: not the rain that had soaked through my clothes, not awe at the beauty of the rainbow, not horror at the calamity I'd just witnessed. I was too numb for any of that. But later, when I was more myself, when I was able to weep, I considered the rainbow.

It has always been a sign of hope, a beautiful thing that follows the rain; the more religious among us see it as a promise from whatever divine or spiritual entities they believe controls the weather; I am not so fortunate as to have such beliefs, but the narrative is compelling, isn't it? At the end of a disaster that I still have yet to fully fathom, there is a promise, that at least there is something bright in the future.

But my mind refuses to accept that comfort for long--did we buy this bright future at the cost of the present? Can such a purchase ever merit such a terrible cost? Or perhaps this really is the start of a brighter future, perhaps the world that springs up in the wake of this disaster will be a just world. Would that be worth it, if so? So many people are prepared to trade their lives just to make this world better for a few moments; would an entire city be prepared to burn so that a better world could grow from their ashes?

Is the rainbow, in short, ever worth it?

20211023

tornado

The first clear sign that the Spire was failing happened in the city of Idreinen. Oh, there had been rumors, but there were rumors even at its peak--any time the wind inconvenienced a merchantman, or any time the rains made a farmer's life more difficult--but this time, neither the Order's truest believers nor its wiliest propagandists could deny it.


I spent more time in Idreinen than I did in the capital at the time, because it was more interesting. The Prince was boring, the future Princess was a dilettante--Idreinen, that beautiful city, that hub of trade and culture and scholarship, was the place where history happened. So it was that, standing on the Duke's gilded balcony, drinking his wine, listening to him dismissing these new philosophers' vanity and their jealousy, I saw the sky turn green.

It's odd, seeing thy sky in the wrong color. You immediately sense that something is wrong, but instead of withdrawing inside, the mind is drawn to the aberration, fascinated by it--it's not until the impossibly loud clap of thunder and the sudden roar of the descending funnel cloud that you realize you really should find shelter.

A ducal palace full of wealthy merchants and freshly minted nobility can still descend into a panic when they see their Duke, normally so confident, running for the basement with a look of absolute terror on his face. Wine glasses were dropped, tables of refreshments overturned, servants shoved roughly aside--some were quite badly injured. The tornado missed the palace, of course, though it did damage some of the nearby mansions.

Somehow, the story of the tumultuous retreat spread throughout the city, despite my repeated insistence to my friends that they not repeat a word of it to anyone. It was certainly never my intention for the people of the city to sneer at the Duke and those elite enough to attend his parties, much less to expose their hypocrisy as people who claimed to care about the people and yet quickly descended into chaos the moment they were threatened.

At least the palace was spared.

20211021

full moon

When I still think of her, I think of the full moon: bright and beautiful and impossible to ignore. And I think of all the times she arranged to have her most important gatherings, from grand balls to informal salons, coincide with that moon, and how effortless she made being in perfect control seem on those days. Those were the days she cemented alliances, and those were the days she destroyed her enemies with a single carefully timed word. Those were the nights she seemed unstoppable.

It was an autumn evening, the last time she was able to make the city dance to her rhythm and no one else's. The gusty wind that day even had the leaves dancing for her, making the whole city alight with red and gold, carpeting the streets on the way to the palace. And then by nightfall, the clouds raced through the sky, adding even more drama to a fantastically golden moon. I thought that night--even me, who had long since resolved to leave as soon as I found the strength--that this was it. Here, tonight, she would win, and the last of her enemies would fail, and we could finally live in that utopia she always dreamed of.

I was on the balcony enjoying the breeze in my hair and the spectacle of that perfect moon when the illusion broke. I didn't know the woman who found me, but she wore the green sash that marked her as one of the enemy. "Where is she?" she asked. "Aren't you her . . ." she seemed to struggle for the right word to describe me, much as I often did. She waved her hand irritably. Whatever name I went by, I was unimportant. "I have a message."

There was something odd in her tone. "I don't know where she is," I said, carefully, "but if it's urgent--"

"It is."

"--then I can deliver a message to her."

She seemed to steel herself, and then she delivered the news. That there was a coup planned, and nearly complete--that the following day the rivals of the Princess would have her and her supporters arrested. Here, immediately following her display of such impossible majesty and power, she would be cut down.

What can you say to that? It felt almost impossible to believe, but I believed it regardless. I forgot, I suppose, that the full moon inevitably wanes.

20211020

galaxy

Those first nights on the road, we slept under the stars. It was still summer, if only just, and the nights were still warm, and for Elara and myself this was really the first time we'd ever left the city, had never, as Drysi put it, ever seen the night sky. (Perhaps it's hard for you to imagine, just as it was hard for us to imagine what a truly dark night was like. But there were always lights in the city: lanterns in the streets, candles and fires burning in the houses and palaces . . . life did not stop when the sun set in the city.)

At first I was amazed at how many more stars there were, how dark it really was once the fire had died. Then, as I lay there on the verge of sleep, Drysi shook me awake. I blinked away the lingering dreams, and looked into her face--here in the starlight it was a dark shadow against an impossibly bright sky--and she just whispered, "look."

And there it was, stretching across the sky, that strange glowing band of the galaxy--something I'd only ever heard described before. As I stared in awe, she kissed me in the cheek and leaned up against my shoulders. "Something you haven't seen before," she said.

I hadn't. I had nothing to say before this, the impossible majesty of the night's sky, but somewhere in my heart I resolved to see the world outside of the city--so many people had told me what a strange place it was, but it was my home. There was beauty there, of course--ah, if only you could have walked those streets--but it was familiar.

At the time, though, we lay there and watched the sky in silence. Words, as ever, came later, inadequate tools to paint a world that defies description.

20211019

snow

The road took me, eventually, to a little village in the foothills, where they maintained a pass through the mountains. They didn't ask where I'd come from, only that I help where I could, and I was happy for the chance to put my hands to use doing something constructive for once. Mostly I ended up helping them maintain the trails: I'd spent so much time wandering anyway, surviving on whatever the wild provided, and it was a long and lonely project much of the time.


Every winter the snows would come and render the mountains impassable; every autumn they--we--turned all our efforts towards building up our stockpiles and surviving the winter. They were hard winters, and despite our best preparations, we couldn't always make sure everyone survived. Sometimes the snows came sooner than we were prepared for; sometimes they lasted too far into the spring.

But it was so beautiful. The world covered in snow, silent and pristine; the light of the hearthfires casting a warm glow on the snowflakes as they danced in the wind; even after seeing people I'd come to care for lost to the winter, I never tired of the perfect serenity of a snowbound world. And more than that: until the thaw, there was nothing to do but wait. We were trapped, yes, but we were also free: the rest of the world couldn't hurt us here.

I will always be an outsider here, no matter how welcoming they are, but that would be true anywhere. At least here I can help. At least here I can keep them safe from the rest of this dying world when the snows can't.

20211018

thunder

When I was very little, I loved thunderstorms. My caretakers often had to drag me back inside when the storms broke, because I'd run out onto the balconies and stare at the sky and--well, of course they worried. Storms weren't even supposed to happen, not here at the beating heart of the world. That's why I existed.


No one told me this, of course, that the reason I was born was to quiet the storms. I wonder what my father used to think, watching his daughter laughing and staring at the storms, enthralled by their beauty, when no doubt he hoped that I would naturally sense that they are my enemy, that I was meant to crush them. With every bolt of lightning, every clap of thunder, did his hopes die? Did he worry that I would fail in my duty, my sole purpose on this earth, because I thought the thing I was born to destroy was beautiful?

He's gone now, and everyone has left me. There's another storm tonight, one of the worst I've ever seen--so much lightning illuminating my city, so much rain. I should be planning for what's to come, but now, as I sit here in my tent, listening to the rain and the thunder, all I can do is think of those storms when I was a child, the excitement, the joy . . . I can't feel it anymore. And I can't bring myself to do what I must if I can't, just one last time.

The storm feels like an opportunity, like it's lingering for no reason besides to give me a chance to enjoy what I had once loved, years ago, but instead I simply find myself afraid. Not just of the thunder, though with each bolt--so deafeningly close, and here I am so exposed on the cliffs above the city--my heart pounds. But soon the storm will end, the seas will calm, and one way or another, all of this must end.

20211017

sun

It got hot early that summer, far hotter than I'd ever experienced it. I always hated summer, and now, so soon after the spring had withdrawn, the sun burned bright and oppressive in the sky and it was all we could do to languor in the shade and hope that the nights would cool off enough to be tolerable. And for a while that's what we did: slept in the dark, emerged at night, when we could all at least pretend that this was some way to live.


That was the summer we left the capital to visit Drysi's homeland, the desert highlands east of the mountains--it was, depending on who you asked, a diplomatic visit to renew the friendship between the capital and the highlands, or a show of force to remind the highlanders what would happen if they ever proved to be inadequate friends. 

So we crept out one night from the place where we were not quite guests and not quite prisoners--Drysi most of all, the hostage who had been too long from home--and, guided by moonlight and desperation, we followed the stream to the lake and wetlands. There, rather than the endless stone and sage, low trees and shrubs and reeds huddled together, desperate for a taste of that precious water. And there we built a little shelter, and spent the day cooling ourselves in the lake and relaxing in the shade.

As the sun finally sank behind the mountains, so too did the thin wispy clouds that Drysi said marked a change in the weather first appear. A promise (and, perhaps, a warning) that even the most tyrannical reign must come to an end eventually.

20211016

cirrus clouds

The one thing that kept me from feeling like a prisoner was watching the sky. It leaves messages for those who know how to read them. So whenever I felt trapped, I'd find a roof and sit and see what the sky had to say. 


Little Seva and I didn't agree on much, but she liked watching the skies with me. Those times were . . . sacred, almost. We'd sit together in perfect silence, no arguing, no petty maneuvering, just reading the clouds. Even after, when we returned to our lives and went back to disagreeing on everything, we'd never say a word about it to anyone. This was ours in a way that was deeper and more powerful than words could express.

That anchor was enough. Even once we'd gone our separate ways, she to her dream of building an enlightened world, me to case the grounds of the city that was my prison, she would still find me sometimes, sitting on a high place, reading the sky.

It had been a clear, hot summer when a curtain of cirrus clouds spread across the sky, and she joined me at the garden that overlooked the old city. Without a word she sat next to me, just like old friends, and we watched the setting sun paint those clouds in astonishing shades of pink and red. After a while, she said, "There's a storm coming, isn't there?"

"Yeah."

"A bad one?"

"Looks like."

The brilliant shades of sunset faded, leaving only the deepening blues of twilight fading into night, and finally she stood. "They'll be wondering where I am. I'd best be getting back to the palace."

"Good luck, little Seva. I'll be seeing you."

I'd half expected her to ask me for help--even the oldest traditions have to give way sometime--but she didn't. Even faced with a storm we both knew would be a disaster, she respected that.