The boat was a wide, flat barge for goods. A boat that one would see floating lazily down the river, sometimes assisted by canal teams when the river’s flow was timid and unconvinced of its own importance. This barge, however, did not move like that. The Boatmaster had a strange worksong he would hum and stomp out, sometimes joined in verse by Old Crow and, once she knew some of it, Cassie. This song was a Sacred Song, a song that propelled the ship quite quickly across the lake Moonfall, right into the gushing river and over the headwaters of the Moontear river.
Maria, however, was watching the horizon. She kept her eyes sharp for any of the black coats of the Hunters that had plagued her and Cassie since she first rescued the girl. By midday she was still watching while she ate a lunch prepared by Old Crow without prompting. The curious man sat next to her quietly and watched with her. After several minutes, his voice barely a whisper and in a conspiratorial, defensive tone, he asked, “What do we watch for, Defender of the People?”
Maria started to respond, but stopped with her mouth open. “Why the old title, Crow? There have not been Defenders upon the plains since before the Calamity.”
He shook his head slowly and made a soft clicking sound with his tongue. “Oh, the young. How quickly they forget. Do you know why they call me Old Crow?”
Cassie giggled, “It’s because you’re stooped and say silly things.”
He hissed at the child, not like a cat but like a disaffected raven chiding its hatchlings. “No, child, it is because I am old. So old that I remember a time before the herds, a time before the Scourge, a time before the Cull and before the Kingdoms became fiefdoms and the Kings became statues. A time when treachery was but a whispered fear and not a settled fact. I have watched the moon fall and the sun tower in puffy pride, I have seen the fears of those who battled with sharp steel and hallowed bone, I watched the sealing of the Damned, and I have watched the birth of the Blessed. I am old, child, older than bone and blood. Older than dirt and water.”
He turned back to Maria. “I use the title because it is true. You carry the Sigil, you carry the hallowed Bone, and you carry the mantle of Defender. Your mind and heart speak to you like a compass speaks to the traveler of what is right and what is just.”
Maria turned from vigil and narrowed her eyes. “Old Crow, I do think perhaps your memories, dreams, and sight cloud each other. No one carries the Bone and neither I nor my parents nor their parents have seen the Sigil. It has been lost forever to the fallen dirt of the Forgotten Places.”
Old Crow barked a short laugh. “Certainly, Marshal. Certainly. Yet one day you will be called upon to join your siblings in Bone and you shall know that I speak true. I always speak true, even when I am wrong.”
Maria shook her head slowly. “Yes, Old Crow. What I watch for are the dark riders that call themselves Hunters. They seek out the girl.”
He hissed again, this time through his teeth. In the way a man might when seeing that he miscounted those that had arrayed against him. “Ah, yes, yes. That makes sense. They would be following you. Well, her. They would be following the petulant one.”
Cassie kicked the deck. “Hey! I am not petulant. I am just trapped with those below my station!” With a huff she turned back to the Boatmaster and helped him again with the lyrics of his song. Maria, though, shifted so she could look upon Old Crow fully. “Would? What do you know of the Hunters, Old Crow?”
“Many things, child. Many things. I know that they do not ride of their own accord. I know that their eyes burn red and white without the color of free peoples and I know that they speak in shattered tones, like the drones and thralls of the Massani spirit stealers. And I know that they work for a very powerful one of the Damned who was not sealed in the ancient ways. They chase you because of it, that great dark spirit that seeks its final release.” He looked at Cassie and sighed. “Such an unwholesome creature to place such importance in, but these things never enjoyed a certain love of honesty and respect for those that would have to carry them through.”
Maria twisted her mouth around a few times, looking for the words to respond but being stymied by her confusion at every turn. “What do you mean, Crow?”
He laid back against the wood of the boat and stared at the sky. His hands above him, he traced some grand image, like unfurling a map. “Imagine with me, child, a time before the Calamity. Before the Scourge poured their fire over the Many Kingdoms and before time and claimed the Heroes of Legend. There are three castes of the Great Spirits, in the greatest of Lodges, the Lodge of the Gods.”
Maria nodded, “Yes, I know. The Blessed, the Cursed, and the Damned.”
He continued, as if she hadn’t said a thing. “Who filled what seats in the Great Feasthall of the Gods is never, was never, clear. Some seats were Damned and Cursed, or Blessed and Cursed. And one, one very hoary seat, Blessed and Damned.”
Maria grew skeptical. “None of the Damned sit in the Feasthall, Old Crow. Anyone who had grown in the gowns of the Speakers knows that, and you know that I did as I’m a Marshal.”
He looked at her from beneath his glasses, letting her see his milky-black eyes for the first time. Swirling like the night sky changing the seasons every moment without hesitation. “No, child, they know what the Lodge has told them, under a great curse from this of the Damned. The one Damned who has kept its seat regardless of its crimes because the Way has not been made known yet. Not even the Ancients knew how to bind it here, in the Great Plain, and we were sealed forever until the Way was made known. I am one of a handful that may see the Time-Without and the Time-Within to know it. Just as you know not to stare too long into any shard of topaz lest it steal your mind because you are not meant to see the Time-Without.”
“The time-with…what? The topaz curse is from the Damned who live there, Aslain the Crystal-Shaper. She’s trapped there and wants a way out through us, through the Cloth.”
He shook his head again, gazing upon her like a student that refuses to believe the words she just read in the book she refuses to open. “All things are so much more complicated than that, child. So much more complicated. What matters is that this Damned has set his sights on sealing the Way. He has done so many times before. So many times before. His sealing of the Way brought the Calamity and brought the great evils before. The dragon raids, the stone-peoples, even Drakir the Lifedrinker and Foldis Who’s Crime Is Forgotten were his doing.”
Maria rolled her eyes. “Half of those are just stories, Old Crow, and I have seen Drakir the Lifedrinker. It’s something every student of the Spire does at some point. He gave me tea and let me play with one of his shamblers.”
Old Crow chuckled. “He would, he was always a gentle soul. Despite what He would have him do. No, even old Drakir wouldn’t stand up to Him in his full glory, though. It’s why Drakir became the Lifedrinker. A fool’s quest to find the Way before, a fool’s quest perverted by glory and by necessity. None of these are stories, Maria Defender of the People. Once again it has come that the Way seeks to bind Him, to banish forever the Curse of Topaz, but he seeks to thwart it. He can’t pervert you, since you’re too damn stubborn and you carry the Bone and Sigil. He doesn’t need to, though, since Cassandra of the Blood and Wind is needed to Bind Him. He just needs to kill her at the right place so that her power doesn’t flow to another before the time passed.”
“Of the…Old Crow, you’re using weird titles again. I know what Bone and Sigil are, from the histories, but what in the name of the Blessed is Blood and Wind?” Maria began her search again, fingering the longarm stashed against the side of the boat, waiting for a Hunter to use it against.
“Blood and Wind. There were six forms to the Ancient’s ways, the power of the Six that first made the Kingdoms. The Six who were its first protectors. Shadow and Steel, Bone and Sigil, Blood and Wind, Light and Thought, Leather and Thunder, Word and Earth. The only that is still known to the histories is Bone and Sigil, since the Youngest who was the strongest could only instil her power into those who wore her Cloth if they carried her signs so that all could see. Cassie is the waking keeper of the Blood and Wind, though. The Second who left beyond the Topaz and who brought back with him the strength of What Should Be over What Is.”
“What do you mean, Old Crow?” Maria had lost interest in her task then. The boat was moving into the rapids, descending into the receiving levees of Old Bardisholm. No Hunter dared go there, as the Wallkeepers would shoot any down who were not known to them.
“To fix the world, child, you have to find the Way. Each of the Damned could only be bound by two of the Six working together. Half of the Binding was laid already by the Second and the Youngest, who were the clearest and most powerful of the Six once the First went mad with grief. She carries the Blood of the explorer and the Wind of the oceans. While you carry the power to enforce what is Right, only she may grant or deny freedom. Liberty. The virtues of doing without needing to ask or seek right and just ways first. She is the Explorer, in flesh, just as you are the Enforcer, in flesh. Just as I am the Truth given flesh, at least that is what the Stormcrow tells me.”
Maria chuckled. “Well far be it for me to go telling the Lady of Ravens what is and is not true. And if this is true, Old Crow, where will we find the Way you speak of?”
Old Crow tilted his head upward, as if listening to something snatched by the wind and brought right to his ears. “That is for you to do, young one. This is your quest, not mine. You just needed to know what quest you were on first.” With that he stood and gave the traditional greeting to the Wallkeepers, leapt into the air, and became a large, graceful blackbird in a flash without light or sound. Soon he was careening into the sky, held aloft by something only he knew.
“Quest?” Maria hadn’t thought of it that way. “I don’t want no damn quest with this girl, she’s bad enough without making her any more important.”
The Boatmaster’s song slowly dwindled as the levees rose and fell around the boat then, and the Wallkeepers lifted the great iron gate into Old Bardisholm. Orders were being shouted down at them from above in Carril, the language of the Bardisholm peoples. Each time it came down, the Boatmaster turned the ship this way and that, slowly creeping up on the network of docks and houses that made up Bardhisholm, the city on the edge of the world. Deep in its swampy jungle, safe from fire but not from darkness or the other things that grow there.
Maria sighed. Her diversion to help some poor, kidnapped girl would be going on much longer than she thought. Or wanted.

Whispers From The Past

January 17, 2014

Keton jumped over the low wall and sprinted quickly across the barren courtyard. Wreckage of the Old World littered the place – too dangerous yet, it seems, for any of the Folk to retake it. He could smell his charge inside though – ink and paper books, still at least partially intact, despite centuries of languish.

He skipped over a bench, almost rolled into a ball, with some kind of message woven into iron fibers that it had once been made from. Some message in Latin. It was hard to read, with only the “EST” still visible on the outside of the mass. Respecting the warning, he unbuckled the grip for his aether emitter, a glove-like device that was used not just to project certain tools useful for spelunking in the ruins of the Old World but also for defending himself against the many threats that live in the ruins and feed and unwary travelers.

A Librarian, however, was no unwary traveler.

Keton crept along the outside of a massive building he had followed the trail of books too. Both the smell of binding resin on the wind, faint but enough to track, and the subtle comfort of the books themselves. He could feel the resonant song of the knowledge contained within them, that special talent that selected the Librarians from all other Folk. Taking care to not get lost in the ecstatic song, he carefully pushed the doors open with his right hand, left hand slipping into the aether emitter and pressing the lock combination. The bonds quietly folded around his arm, locking into place like a gauntlet of brass and light. He quickly tapped in another code on the buttons, lighting up the nodes on the gauntlet like a torch. He raised his hand, fingers extended so the light filtered throughout the room. Illuminating rows and rows of rotten but only just books.

A treasure beyond imagining, a wealth of information of the Old World waiting to be reconstructed. Recorded. Preserved.

He sprung into action immediately, whipping a brown leather messenger’s bag to his feet and pulling out a contraption of arms and plates, filled with tiny intricate clockwork and a thrumming aether engine, whirring and spitting tiny jets of steam. He then pulled out a bottle from within the bag, a strange shaped bottle filled with the cleanest water, and poured it into the machine’s fuel port and stepped back, letting the strange machine unfold until it seemed like an open book, two big copper plates with a spine joining them, with several spider-like arms that ended with various aether tools specialized in the reconstruction and recording of the printed word.

He quickly set about carefully moving the less decayed works to the desk he had set the machine up on and stacked them near a large, padded claw on the back of the machine. It slowly grabbed on book at a time and the arms went into motion. They peeled away filth and brushed away dust. They spun with light and flashes of lightning, carefully restructuring the broken chemical bonds that were once pages and ink. Then a large lens would scan each page in less than a second while the other arms continued their work on the next page. Each book was placed back on the desk looking as it did when the library first received it, carefully recorded into the machine’s internal aether matrix.

Keton grew more and more excited the more books he saw placed down. All were medical texts, ancient troves of knowledge that the Clerics of Forest Paths would pay dearly for. That may save people and bring him both glory and recognition in the Order of the Sheltered Bower.

He dreamed of sheltered promenades, a house in the High Hills, his own private library. Perhaps even an apprentice, a Secretary. He might even be made a full brother of the Order. A true Librarian, not just a Master of Acquisition.

The machine worked faster and faster, hitting a certain stride as it adjusted to deal with the images filling each of the pages. The books were from a later period as well, printed on high-reflection glossy paper, filled with bright colors and vivid images. It seemed wasteful to Keton as he flipped through one of the finished tomes. They left wide, bright white margins and took up entire pages with unnecessary images of men and women at sport or at play.

Flipping through the books and daydreaming let Keton forget the first rule of being a Master of Acquisition, however – The Library is not the only place that hungers for knowledge and feeds upon books. Be ware, be warned, be alert.

Unfortunately for Keton, he never saw the bookworm until it was too late, his fingers frantically stammering on the keypad of his aether emitter for his blade before finally going still.

Quick Post

August 3, 2012

So, a few things.

First, Street Fighter is 25. What the hell. Thanks, Wil Wheaton.

I’m out of rant for today about big things and important things other than asking what you, my readers, are doing to make your world a better place. A shout out to Nerdfighteria, who are working diligently to lower world suck every day. Unfortunately I cannot fully call myself a nerdfighter as I hold myself to some pretty ridiculous philosophical and ethical positions and many of those in the Nerdfighter ranks would find me disturbed for it. But that should be obvious as it would be really difficult for me to find anything redeeming about someone who claims to be anti-feminist and I know there’s a couple  nerdfighters out there that to. Mostly thanks to the Men’s Rights Movement.

Speaking of the Men’s Rights Movement, fuck you. I’m personally sick and tired of the bullshit on Reddit, I’m sick and tired of the bullshit around FreeThought Blogs and Skepchick, I’m tired of the bullshit of these people trying to speak for me.

I am a man. I’m a cisman. I’m a cisgendered white man. I am a pansexual, omnisexual, bisexual cisgendered white man. Everyone from DJ Groethe to the director of CFI Canada to A Voice For Men are full of shit and using authority borrowed from their professional station (or from whimsy and fantasy, AVFM) to speak about things they both have no education in and no authority in. They do not represent me. They do not speak for me. They do not even speak rationally. All of the things in this discussion that we’re fighting over, from harassment policies to rape culture to women? A lot of these cultural elements have been proven in sociological studies. If they’d bother to check.

So yeah, Men’s Rights Movement? Fuck your face with a hedge-trimmer.

An update on those things that are important to me, as a philosophical stance. I am an atheist, I am an antitheist, I am a feminist, I am a liberal. All of these stances come from observation, data, and science. I’m willing to discuss any of these positions with anyone so long as you are not a bad actor. So far I haven’t had to even think of a comment policy yet (cue cut to comment section with two comments and a tumbleweed) but you can rest assured that if you come in and start arguing in bad faith, you start trolling, or you start using this as a platform for something then I’m going to delete your comments. I’m unemployed and disabled. I have the time to do this.

Speaking of being unemployed and disabled, I’m also homeless! However, the place I was living in was sapping me of everything involved in the will to live, so I’m happier right now. However, if anyone in Southern California knows of a furnished room on the cheap I can rent for a few months, I’d love to know. I’m trying to get my family to help me with a motel room until I can find a permanent place to live but they’re being…unreliable. I’ve got a friend who might have a place for me in a few months but until then I’m sleeping on a couch and it’s hell on my back. And all my other joints. Plus, privacy? What’s that? So yeah, my crowd of two, please help me find a place to crash for a bit.

Uh, what else. Working on two new short stories right now but it’s hard coming from the place I was in. Currently theorizing a story about a Steampunk China if the Opium Wars had never ended. Enjoy history? China? The Victorian period? Imperialism? Anything related to this? Send me snippets of information, data, what have you and I’ll boil them down into a few story ideas. I’m thinking of watching Ip Man and Ip Man 2 again for some inspiration. And because they’re fantastic martial arts movies.

Now I’m going to go back to missing my partner like a love struck fool, relaxing my back, and trying to come up with ideas.

Happy Esther day.

Stay classy.

Gulch of Fire

June 27, 2012

A gunslinger's best friendI don’t know what else to call it yet. Anyway, here goes.

Eighty years ago, things changed.
Eighty years ago, the Great Kingdoms were attacked by the Famine and people died. Civilization died. Things changed.
Eighty years ago, the mountains shook and shuddered and rumbled. Down from the peaks came whole clouds of the Famine-Flyers. Insects as big as a fist that’d eat anything. Especially steel. Especially the flesh and armor of the great Knights, our Heroes, our Kings. They ate up all of the defenses and all of our food until we adapted. Until things changed.
Eighty years ago, the Famine started. It lasted for five years and killed nine in ten. If not from the Famine-Flyers, from the starvation. From the cold. From the fear. Now things have changed and the world’s moved on. The knights and soldiers carry hard iron now. The wizards and will-workers use science and genius to supplement their magics, since the world is weak and faithless. Clerics have taken up The Black and the serve the Saints in their own ways, burying the dead and healing the sick. Trappers, Trackers, and Scouts have taken up the Rifle to claim the land back from the Famine-Flyers – even if it is just a desert now. The common people have had to become hard-bitten and competent, honing their skills to razors. And over them all are the Marshals, keeping the peace and serving the Righteous Law since the Temple Knights all died fighting the Famine.
Things changed, the world’s harder now. But we get along.
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Taking Back the Future

June 14, 2012

Humanity was born out of the blood, the mud, and the beer of nature. As it were. We are creatures of the environment we find ourselves in and much of our presumptions about the world, much of nature, is formed of emergent systems. The fact that we’re social animals is an emergent system. However, we’ve risen above our natural organization, our natural programming, and we’ve moved past living purely on instinct and survival. Our primate ancestors figured out tools and society, and our ancestors laid down the foundations of our world. They did this using one very powerful technology that we, the progressive people of the world, need to take back and make our own. It’s a technology that’s been instrumental in all of us becoming part of the progressive, radical, and liberal movements that we come from.

That technology is the power of the story. That technology is narrative.

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I totally missed posting yesterday and that’s my fault.

So here’s more Out of Thyme! Technically this is a followup to the last chapter posted, and after this I’ll be writing a new chapter for Out of Thyme. Between the last post and this one, as well, is probably going to be more fighting. Because I like writing fight scenes but I just couldn’t wrap my head around this one.

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But here’s the beginning of what I’m working on for my Victorian superhero team.

I don’t know what it is but I just can’t string words together today.

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