Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music: Are We Ourselves?

Courtesy of The Fixx:

I'm extremely busy and kind of worn out (though I did get a decent amount of sleep last night), so I may not be posting tomorrow, Friday, or next week. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Great Weapons: Beyond These Walls 06

The common room was crowded. A handful of guards were rolling dice at a corner table, and seemed totally engrossed in their game; but most of the guards were talking. They stood together, or huddled over tables, conversing, commenting, or arguing. The air was warm from all those bodies, far warmer than the early spring evening outside, and the din was overwhelming. Miledha stopped just inside the door, feeling as if she'd walked into an invisible wall of noise, heat, and crowd.

One of the guards caught sight of her and waved, so Miledha picked her way carefully over. The doorway to the sleeping-rooms was just beyond the wide wooden bench where the guard was sitting, so Miledha would have had to pass that way in any case; she might as well stop and greet the woman. It was Ishua, a broad-shouldered guard, both taller and a bit older than Miledha, the same one who had stopped to thank her for healing her lover. Which meant that the woman Ishua had her arm so carefully around...

"You must be Diessa," Miledha said, raising her voice in order to be heard. Diessa had a narrow face and a prominent chin, attractive though not conventionally pretty, and a broad-shouldered, wiry build. One of her arms rested in a sling; seeing that, Miledha added: "I remember you now -- the elbow."

"Sha Miledha," Diessa said. "It's good to meet you."

"Elbow?" asked Ishua, leaning in with a grin.

Miledha glanced at the larger woman. "We were more than a little busy," she explained. "I wasn't looking at faces -- only wounds."

One of the other guards -- heavyset, male, with hair tightly curled against his skull -- touched her shoulder and pushed a chair over; Miledha nodded gratefully and sat, and the man turned back to the conversation at his table.

"What did you think of the flaming horse?" asked Ishua.

"I don't know," admitted Miledha. "I never learned conjuration -- of any sort. Dame Naggia said it was too dangerous."

"The Order would agree with her on that," said Diessa. Her voice was smoother than Ishua's, and a little higher; something about it made Miledha wonder if she sang. "They use it themselves, of course, but part of their charter is to hunt down diabolists and rogue conjurers."

"Yes," Miledha said slowly. Now that Diessa mentioned it, she remembered the story: the Order had been established after one of the first mortal kingdoms was betrayed by a diabolist and usurped by a flight of demons. "Serendom, wasn't it?"
Diessa nodded.

"What happened?" asked Ishua.

Diessa looked at her, but Miledha didn't remember much of the details; so she nodded for Diessa to continue.

"One of the king's advisors was diabolist named Nerrila. She tricked a conjurer named Bristell into summoning her master, a demon named Raijth, and then set it loose. Raijth used the conjurer to open the way for the rest of its wing, from its most trusted lieutenants to its lowliest troops. Then they overran the palace, killed the king and most of the court, and took over the kingdom..."

Ishua's eyes widened as she made the connection with the stories she knew: "...which became the Demon Kingdom of Raijth. Five hundred years of fear and horror. Those stories, I remember."

"The reality may actually have been worse than the stories make it sound," said Diessa. "Still... that age has passed, and the Seven send it doesn't come again."

Miledha nodded at that. She remembered more of the story, now. The demon kingdom had lasted until one of the human kings, Lidon, had brought the Great Spear against it. It had been a terrible battle, with weeks of desperate fighting followed by months of tracking and destroying the last of the demons. The demon Raijth was trapped in the palace and finally fell to the Great Spear; that was what decided the battle. "Let's hope the Order knows what it's about," she said.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Doll on the Porch

Lilith Saintcrow threw up a flash-fiction prompt on her blog. (You may have seen the news story that prompted it already.) This was my response:

The doll appeared on the porch Friday evening, with blank black button eyes and a soft vacuous smile. Abi played with it her room, and tucked it into her bed when it was time to sleep.

On Saturday, she carried everywhere she went: to the store with her parents, to the restaurant for lunch, to the park to play. Abi was very proud of the way the doll slid down the slide all on its own. The doll was heavy, and seemed to get heavier the longer she carried it, but Abi didn't mind. When bedtime came, she tucked it into bed again, and they both slept very soundly.

On Sunday, she arranged the doll so that it sat with them in church. The doll was very well behaved. They spent Sunday afternoon at G-ma's house, and the doll was very well behaved there, too. "What a big doll," remarked G-ma.

"Abi found it," Mom told her. "I didn't realize how big it was until this morning, though."

That night, Abi carefully put the doll to bed again. She even made a big show of brushing its teeth. The doll, of course, just smiled its empty smile.

Abi woke up early on Monday. Her parents were still asleep, and she was still very tired, even though she'd slept deeply. She got out of bed, and tried to pick up her doll, but now it was bigger than Abi and far too heavy for her to carry. "Come on, doll," she told it, thoroughly exasperated. "We can't stay here all day."

So on Monday, the doll carried her. It carried her out of the house and down the street, across roads and through empty fields. Far away, it found its own house, where it carefully tucked Abi in its toy bin.

Incidentally, if you haven't read any of her books, I'd recommend checking them out. I haven't read everything she's written, but everything I've read has been really enjoyable.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Great Weapons: Beyond These Walls 05

Miledha watched the rider descend from the dark eastern sky. Galloping, the horse had left a trail of fire behind it, like a comet; but it slowed and descended as it reached the keep, and now she could see the tiny puffs of flame where each hoof struck sparks from the empty air. She settled herself on top of the wall, with her back against the crenelations, as it touched down near the center of the courtyard.

It wasn't a natural animal of course; it was something created, or more likely conjured. Miledha knew almost nothing of those arts; she could almost hear Sister Naggia repeating her opinion of such things: Why would you want such a beast? A horse'd carry you there just as well, draw less attention to you, and be far less dangerous to manage. Miledha smiled to herself. Unless, she answered her teacher's imagined question, you needed to get from Boeringen to Langoish Keep in a single night. It was quite a sight, whatever it was and however the Order had come by it: horse-shaped, but flat black -- even to its eyes, which were only visible when it turned its head enough that she could see their shape at the edge of its silhouette. It looked like someone had carved a hole in the world where a horse should be... and by its nature it couldn't be entirely in the world, not if it could run across empty air.

The rider dismounted, pulling a set of saddlebags from his mount's back as he stepped away. The beast shimmered, folded in on itself, and was gone.

Miledha nudged the winds to carry words from the center of the courtyard to her place on the wall, and was gratified to hear the gasp of surprise from the assembled guards and council members. Then Brother Wend stepped forward and said, "Addis?"
She couldn't decipher everything in his tone, but she thought she heard surprise, pleasure, and maybe a touch of worry somewhere down underneath it all.

"Wend!" The other man sounded relieved. "I came as soon as I heard."

"You can't dream how glad I am to see you. It's been..." There was a pause, and then Brother Wend said, "This is Viscount Roberr, the lord of Langoish Keep."

There was a brief pause as Roberr stepped forward.

"Be you welcome, and at your ease," said Roberr. "The Shadir have already sent us one messenger this evening; I doubt they'll bother us again. Come into the keep with us. We have food and drink -- not fancy, but filling. If you've come representing the Order, we have a great many things to tell you."

Wend continued, "This is Brother Addis, master sorcerer of the Renowned Eastern Order of the Hidden Arts."

Brother Addis offered Roberr his hand. "I'm grateful, Viscount; that was a difficult ride. I'd appreciate a bit of refreshment before we move to matters of sorcery and war."

Miledha grumbled to herself. No doubt the entire privy council would want to meet this sorcerer Addis, and no doubt they would have plenty of questions for the adept. It would not be a short meal, and it would not be a short planning session. Even more annoying was that listening in on them would considerably harder with everyone inside the inner keep; out here, she could use the night breezes, but in there she would need a mouse or something similar. She could try to follow them unseen, of course, but with a new adept of unknown abilities that seemed a foolish risk: likely he wouldn't notice her, but if he did then it would be that much harder to get Roberr out of the keep later on. It wasn't worth it.

Instead, she rose and started for the barracks, trying to reconcile herself to the fact that they weren't leaving the keep tonight.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Great Weapons: Beyond These Walls 04

Roberr made a complete circuit of the outer wall, greeting the guards and checking on their placements. He didn't need to -- the Shift Captain, a veteran by the name of Tannis, had them well in hand -- but he wanted to give the rest of the privy council time to settle down. Then he turned his steps to the well-house, a small stone structure that guarded the keep's primary water supply. It was another pointless errand, since he knew that both the heavy wooden door and the iron gate in front of it were shut, but it was something he could plausibly inspect... and yet another way to use some time while twilight slowly faded into full night.

Finally, he turned back to the central keep, mounted the steps, and passed through the smaller gatehouse that defended its doors. The guards were quiet inside, the evening watch settling into the slow rhythms of their shift. He continued on, and saw that the doors to the great hall were open. They shouldn't have been; everything of interest in the hall had been removed and stored away.

He stepped through, and found Miledha a scant three paces ahead of him. Her head was tilted back, and her eyes were on the starry night sky that rose where the ceiling should be, overhead.

"It's beautiful," she said.

"It's considerably less interesting when it's cloudy outside." Roberr had been forced to sit through any number of social occasions in this hall, and bore the place no great love.

"It's still beautiful," said Miledha. She lowered her head and turned to face him.

He looked up, considered, and then nodded. "It is, at that. Are you ready?"

"Me?" Miledha looked surprised. "You're the one who keeps being interrupted."

"Viscount? Viscount Roberr?" The voice was soft, and still out in the gateway, but it had a certain... inescapability... to it. Roberr turned his head slowly, not quite believing what he was hearing. How hard can it possibly be to walk out a gate? He had the feeling he was still finding out.

The messenger spotted the open doors and looked inside. He was young, younger than Roberr, though old enough to fight. "M'lord? Viscount Langoish?"

Roberr nodded, resigned. "What is it?"

"There's a rider approaching."

Roberr frowned. "From the westerners?"

"No, m'lord. From the east. His horse... it gallops a trail of fire across the night air."

Roberr turned his head to look at Miledha, keeping his expression blank by an act of will.

Miledha was smiling. "Well," she said. "I always wanted to see a flying horse."

He closed his eyes for a moment, managed not to sigh, and then turned back to the messenger. "Show me."

Miledha followed him out of the great hall, and into the open air of the courtyard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Music: Unforgiven

At one point, I went looking for songs with the title (or somehow incorporating the concept) of "Unforgiven". I think I was following a theme, but I don't really remember; I might have been looking for one particular song. If so, it was this one:

...But I also found some others, notably Michael Carlos' Unforgiven. I like it; give it a listen.

There are two types of people in the world..

...those who really believe that, and those who know that human beings come in far too much variety to be neatly divided into any two categories.