Feneng 9: Abalone

Feneng lay scattered in the doorway of her chambers, watching the lacquer on her fingernails dry. Today there was to be a mighty feast, and all the heirs of the house must attend, charm, overawe. She snarled at the nails in disgust and gestured at a handmaiden. This was no night for halfway measures.

"You said that it was the fashion in the city, Nightfall-without-Warning?" The other only nodded, and tossed a teasing glance at her mistress. "Please don't give me the silent treatment tonight, not tonight. Father will have all our heads if we are less fine than our guests. Show me the gauntlets."

Nightfall laughed. "Father loves you best of all, Feneng. He would hardly take your head unless you took his first."

"So they said about you," Feneng observed, "elder sister, before you went to the priests and came back wise and cold."

The older woman looked away, stung. She lifted a delicate filigree from a silk-lined box. The gauntlets were rare green liutmenéé, the metal of hours, set with abalone in a peacock feather pattern, with emerald claws at the fingertips. "It is how he lets us go."

"They are very beautiful."

"Put them on!"

Feneng did so, and flexed her fingers experimentally. The gloves were so fine they looked like a brilliant tattoo; the cunningly fashioned claws did as dancers' nails would, lashed out to an arm's length when her fingers and arm were extended, and obligingly ebbed back when relaxed. "Look at these feathers, Father never could bear to see us grow up."

"They have monsters in their eyes! How exquisite." Nighfall's eyes flitted to the wardrobe. "Remember what he did when Nílazem dressed like a man and took up spear in his army? The black gown with moss pearls, dear."

"It is so very dark, what do you think of the blue and alexandrite? He was so furious! Was that when he made the army learn maces, hoping that she would storm off at the prospect of fighting with such an uncouth weapon?" Feneng rifled through her jewel cabinet. "And the blackbird-and-phoenix crown."

They both laughed and reminisced until they were both desperately late for the feast, but once they arrived, there was no one present as beautiful as the princesses in green and blue and black.

liu<t>m(e)-néé day<EARTH>-set in motion; the metal used by clockworkers, when tempered properly it can be bent and twisted extremely and still return to its original shape when the pressure is released.
ní-lá-ZEM golden-bird of prey-PREDATOR; the sunhawk.


Feneng 8: Ochre

In her bower garden, Feneng brushed her hair and counted the leaves on the trees. The frost had come to burn wilt onto their edges; the radiance of yesterday had faded to a subdued impression of ochres. A black rainbow flitted across the pool, a starling, and she made jealous eyes at its coat. Oh, to be young again! To have tresses black as ink, to have eyes that dart and flash!

A snapping twig intruded on her thoughts. "Magnificence, Desolate Vessel wishes to speak with you."

Feneng smiled. "It has been years since I have seen her. Bring her here, and send cakes and wine."

The acolyte bowed, and shortly afterward, Desolate Vessel turned up at the side of the pool, carrying a basket. "Have you seen this garden? It's fascinating. I think there is a mountain behind that tree, but I can't quite reach the other side..."

"You have to climb the tree."

"Oh, of course. I'll get right on that," announced Vessel, as she took the brush from Feneng and inspected her handiwork critically. "You should speak to your handmaidens, Refuge. They have been doing awful things to your hair. Look, there is a spider in it!" She tossed a pinecone into her friend's hands, and soon they were chasing each other between the trees, tossing fruit and handfuls of leaves like they had in the old days, when they still wore the blue and tied flowers in their sleeves to brighten Red Cliff's austere halls.

Some days had passed before Desolate Vessel mentioned what brought her to Beast-Among-the-Mountains. "Blackbird Lantern has been asking after you," she mentioned over dinner. "He poisoned himself with River water, and wonders whether it will defer to you, and see fit to stop blackening his tongue and teeth."

"That man is impossible," muttered Feneng, pushing back her chair. "and if he would just learn when to shut up, I wouldn't have to do this. Put on your shoes. We run."


Weapons of a More Civilised Age: P'an Ku

P'an Ku

...The lighter components, such as clouds and wind and azure, rose to become the sky. The heavier components, such as iron and weight and deep places, fell to form the world.

P'an Ku Cuts the World

This new form of the Void was more helpless than any it had taken thus far. "I will not permit this decrepitude!" suggested P'an Ku. With blows of First Conception, he cut the world into ten times a thousand parts, which moved apart in eight directions, until only the dark web of Existence-Hating Radiance remained. Eager to destroy all the things that are, it pursued! Doing so, its hollow components, such as blackness and silence and radiance, spread between the ten thousand things to make space. "A hero like me has no equal!" P'an Ku declared. Immediately, he set to constructing a mansion to house his glory.

Two aeons passed, and P'an Ku looked out; he saw the winds and the clouds. "Whence comes this vapour?" said he.

Five aeons passed, and he felt a coolness in his lips. "So!" he observed, "the world is cold."

Nine aeons passed, and he heard the dragons breathing. He entered his mansion and shut the door, because now he understood that the Void had found him, had caught him, had settled in his mouth and leached the energy from his breath.

P'an Ku Sleeps

"I could tend to the parasite," P'an Ku commented, "but then who will complete my home?" He spun his axe...


The King in Exile

Today he walks along the shores of the Sea of Years, gathering driftwood; he is helping Radhivanee Dawndrinker build a ship. He has learned why the ships of the Zuqùndoth are grey.

But no sand clings to his feet; no salt sparkles in his hair. His trailing sleeves are stained with red clay, it is wedged up under his fingernails and darkens the soles of his sandals, because he is the exilic king of Tarag Thán and the land is a part of him.

In this way are the great families of the Tháni known; they cannot be separated from the places that gave them birth. The Emerald Emperor who now sits on the throne of the holy city is said to have appeared in the throne room, a young warrior unknown to all men, and overthrown the king before him, turned the amethyst of the royal chair to deep leafy green with a touch. He has never left there. The exulant priesthood of Láyammúra'mu cannot escape the flowers of their temples; they sprout up at their feet and lead them back home.

The exiled king has been building things as long as he remembers, which is a long time, though in that time he cannot remember if once he had a name. "Foreigner," shouts Radhivanee, "where is your haul? Where is the lumber? I see you have brought a pretty bundle of branches to grace our vases in this place with no flowers." Everyone calls him Foreigner now; he has the bearing of a man separated from his home. Every so often, I call out to him too, and I catch him smiling.

Smiling, because he has done what no other of his countrymen has dared: He has chosen his place in the world.



In the darkness, there is a rustle of wings. There is a stir of whispers.

"Do you see it?"

"Do you hear it?"

"They are singing your name."

"They are reading your prayers."

In the darkness, there is an opening of eyes, and the darkness is replaced by uncounted lights.

"The storms are awakening."

"And the heralds have returned to nest."

One voice speaks out, louder than the rest. "Perhaps..."


"Perhaps it is time that we returned."

"They have not seen us in some time."

"But they remember us. They miss us. They crave the warmth of our glory."

There is a hum of assent. Then, one light becomes a darkness, wraps itself in shape. "I will be the first."

Somewhere in the brilliance, the gods shed a collective tear, in farewell for the brightest of their company.


Torchbearer Playtest Raises Questions

So, my IRC playtest group has been fascinating, raising all kinds of useful rules questions. I thought I'd bring them over here and think about those questions for a while.

Who can get Fuel for referencing a Trait? When and how?
Well, as-written, you much be narrating for a character when you get Fuel, but it isn't clear what "narrating for a character" means, so here it is: You're eligible to get Fuel for a character Trait when you do one of the following things:
  • Narrate a character action that expresses the Trait.
  • Create an Ordeal that transparently involves a Trait, for instance by obviously requiring the character to exercise it.
  • Set Trial stakes that express a Trait.
  • Narrate a Trial result in which a Trait is expressed.
You only get Fuel once per Trait in a scene, though; you can't have someone call a character's name three times to get 3 Fuel.
When can you introduce a new Ordeal?
You can introduce a new Ordeal any time in a scene before the Trial is rolled. You absolutely cannot introduce new Ordeals after that; there is no mechanical input permitted post-Trial. You may embed an Ordeal in the stakes of a Conflict, such that the Ordeal takes place only in the case of victory, or only in the case of failure. In this case, you only have to pay for the Ordeal if it's actually inflicted.



Blanked on something to write today, so here is an old piece.

‘This one’s neat.’ She held up a piece of bottle-green seaglass shaped like a ring. It was glossy from the wet.

‘Yeah. Look here, I found a blue piece.’

‘Wow, blue. Do you think there’s more?’

‘We haven’t looked over there yet.’ He pointed down the beach. In that direction, the sand slowly gave way to smooth gravel and outcroppings of increasingly large and slippery stones.

‘Yeah. Maybe later. Do you want to play picnic?’


‘Okay, I’ll be the picnic and you be the ants. You have to try and take all the food – that’s the glass – before I eat it.’

Soon picnic lost its novelty and the children walked back to the boardwalk, where their parents were playing bridge. ‘We’re hungry.’

‘We just had a snack, dear. Why don’t you two have some juice,’ she reached into a bag and pulled out two boxes, ‘and build a nice sand castle? When you’re done, you can show us all what you’ve made and help us build one for ourselves, and then we can all go and have pizza for dinner.’

‘Pizza! Can we eat now?’

‘I like pizza.’

‘No, dear, the pizza place you like isn’t open yet. Here, look at my watch. What time does it say?’

He ran his fingers through his hair as he examined the watch. ‘Twelve-twenty?’

‘No, honey, the small hand is the hour.’

‘Four o’clock?’

‘Very good! The pizza place opens at five-thirty, so we can go eat then. Okay?’

‘That sounds like a long way away.’

‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet that if you go out there and start building castles, you’ll be out there until long after five-thirty unless someone tells you what time it is.’

‘What’ll you bet?’

‘If I’m right, I’ll take you out for ice cream after the pizza.’

‘Ice cream!’

‘Cool! Let’s go!’ They carried their pail back toward the surf to gather decorations for their castle.

‘Hey, what’s that?’ Behind the fence of a dune, something dark and lumpy was curled up in the grass. The children pressed their noses to the slats to examine it. ‘Ew, it smells icky. Let’s go play over there.’ She stepped back and rubbed her wrinkled nose. The boy, ignoring her, looked around for a stick.

‘Well, I want to know what it is. You can go back and finish building the guest wing.’ He found a stick and poked the mound timidly. It didn’t react, so he gave it a firmer prod. It snored and rolled over – it was a very dirty man in an equally dirty coat. ‘Oh!’ He dropped the stick and took several steps back, to where his friend was standing.

‘What was it?’

‘Um... some dirty guy.’

‘I thought people weren’t ‘posed to go back there.’

‘Maybe we should go,’ he paused, ‘back to the castle.’ They did, and started to pile sand against a blank wall to make the next extension of it. Soon afterward, the boy put down his pail. ‘Let’s dig a moat.’

‘For what?’

‘We can put a fish in it and pretend it’s a moat monster.’

‘A what?’

‘Moat monsters eat people when they try to cross the moat.’

‘That doesn’t sound friendly.’

‘Our moat monster can be friendly. Like Jumbles.’

‘Okay. But why do you want to build a moat?’

‘Castles have moats.’

‘Cinderella’s castle didn’t have a moat.’

‘Yes it did.’

‘Did not.’

‘It did too. Remember when the prince had to swim across the moat to find Cinderella?’ He had completely forgotten the castle, and was now standing in the crumbling rotunda that was once its handsome entryway.

‘You’re just making that up. I’m telling.’ She stumbled to her feet, folded her arms, and walked off. He sat among the cupolas, making faces at birds. Soon afterward, she came running back. ‘The parents say that it’s time for dinner!’ They were halfway back before either remembered the pail of painstakingly gathered seaglass.


Blackbird Lantern: Excerpted from a diary

Dear Diary...

Why does Feneng keep looking at me like that? Do I have a snot-thingy? Did one of the larks crap in hair? Should have noticed that. Guess will take bath now.

Dear Diary...

Is still doing it. Maybe poor girl has some kind of vision problem that no one saw fit to inform me of. Thanks, ladies! Just leave good ol' Blackbird Lantern in the dark, right. He doesn't ever need to know anything.

And stupid Hospitable Spear is doing it too! Maybe something in water that makes these Red Cliffers nearsighted. V. disconcerting.

Have just been informed I have new quarters. Will comment on once moved.

Dear Diary...

New quarters are in communal dormitory area. Have cell with three walls, great ocean window, chest for things, windows to adjoining cells. Have remembered intoxicating effect of godmark.

And this, the mark, it brings me to a quandary.

(Ed.: Here the text breaks into Nrittandih of the poetic mode. It is rendered as prose by this translator.) I am Blackbird Lantern, of Veamándhi-of-the-Marshes, of the Ninth-night county, son of Sparrow Brand, son of Effulgent Nightingale before him, son of (Ed. The litany of lineage crumbles into an illegible scrawl, as signatures are wont to do.) I am not some soft-chinned inheritor, but an eater of gods! I have the golden blood because I danced with the fire until she bared her throat and begged I drink! I feel like I am on display.

Ed.: Text changes back to conversational Seinundjé. I'm not sure whether I want to remain on display. It's a disservice to the good women of Red Cliff; I should explain the situation as I did at my home, or I'll spend all my time here surrounded by fascinated moths who have other tasks they should attend to.

But I do enjoy the looks. And the visits.


Torchbearer: Stakes for Trials

A funny thing happened in Torchbearer last night: Without any textual suggestion, the players started to set completely explicit stakes for each Trial, like, "If I win this, then I make the demon in Shulin's body manifest," or, "If I lose, then I'm blown off course by the blizzard."

This is totally awesome, I said to myself as I watched them play things out. What a neat and natural place to embed complications!

This might lead somewhere interesting soon. I'll post a fiction this evening, too; I don't feel like this qualified as a real post.


Mountain 2: Tthayet

The great city of the Zuqùndhoth, Tthayet-in-my-dreams, is older than anyone remembers. It sprawls across a chain of islands, some great, some small, all cobwebbed with canals and crowned with flowering terraces. There is no ground in Tthayet, only road and bridge and cultivated roof.

Long ago the celestial sculptor, Satàrah, danced across the oceans with her lover Raztat.

Tonight, Blackbird Lantern dances across the blue-tiled roofs of Red Cliff, telling stories to the storms. Signalling banners are in his hands and his ankles are heavy with bells. In the shelter of a darkened pavilion, musicians play: a violin, a beating drum, and a voice raised in song set the rhythm for the dancer to follow.

Dust fell from Satàrah's feet and made the clouds; Raztat's spear cut the waters and made wave and tide. Men watched them from the shores, and so they learned an art of battle.

The Lantern's banners tell the sky how Red Cliff was raised, brick by brick, against the edge of the sea. He tells it of the temple's age, of its beauty, how it was here that the language of stone defeated the language of man, with its scale and dignity and excellence. His torches are the only source of light; every window of the great temple is dark.

The dancer's fingers gripping empty air made the sun turn away his face in shame while dragon and phoenix watched her eyes in embarrassed fascination, for so subtle and expressive was Satàrah's abhinaya that it laid her desire naked for all to see. Women watched them from the ships, and so they learned the art of cutting stone.

The drummer's rhythm falters in the darkness, and the violin misses a note; the sun is rising and the musicians are exhausted. Blackbird Lantern still moves across the roofs like a dry leaf carried on the wind, because the clouds have not cleared, and the air is still thick with the smell of meat.

Fingers on his throat buckled Raztat's knees. Meeting her eyes made him drop the beat. They could dance no longer; other things were on their minds. So it was that the sculptor and the warrior sank to the water and the heat of their passion boiled the sea, leaving cracked hills of salt and sand, the foundations of Tthayet-in-my-dreams.

Thousands of years later, in the first theophany in recorded history, Vakhriyya Dawndrinker took up Satàrah's dusty white mantle, and danced on those white salt hills; at every spot she placed her foot, a flat-topped tower sprang up, and when she waved her hands, bridges twined through them like vines or hungry snakes, looking for vermin on which to feed.