Inkwarriors, part 5 (Fiction)

Meril moped around her home for a few days, mourning the loss of her wizard, but then had a sudden, inspiring thought. What if they were interested? After all, they hadn’t said no; they’d just pointed out the difficulty of a relationship between the two of them. Maybe she did stand a chance – if she could find a way to contact them again.

She began to keep a lookout for them, once again. She wondered if they were thinking about her. She hoped so, because she couldn’t stop thinking about them.

***********

In the wizard district, behind its high walls, a certain young wizard was thinking about Meril, but not in the way she hoped. They had thought, after their encounter and Meril’s confession of love, that she would forget them. And she had, briefly.

One of a wizard’s powers was to know when someone was thinking of them. Because a wizard’s true name was a secret even from themself, this feeling was usually a vague background mutter wherein someone was just thinking of wizards in general, but sometimes there would be a spike, usually when another wizard was thinking of them. Meril’s obsession had been annoying before she’d met them, causing large surges of attention. This had only intensified since.

The wizard was unsure what to do. The obvious solution would be to change their route, but the path they took through the city was part of the spell they were in the process of casting, and to change it would destroy the work of many months. Also, thought the irritated wizard, why should they have to change their habits for an inkwarrior, of all things?

The origin of the animosity between wizard and inkwarrior was lost in history, but the essential point was that their aims and methods were opposed. Everyone knew that wizards and inkwarriors did not mix, and indeed could be thought of as two opposing forces.

Both wizards and inkwarriors learned the same catechism as children:

What is an inkwarrior?

An inkwarrior writes the real to keep it safe from chaos.

What is a wizard?

A wizard uses words to bend the real to their will.

This chant was the only known point of commonality between the two groups. There were a few who claimed that this spoke to a shared ancestry, but that was fiercely denied by the elders of both groups.

The wizard decided to take the Meril problem to the wisest person they knew, their mentor. Perhaps they would be able to unravel this tangle. Even if they couldn’t, it would be a relief to talk to someone about it.

***********

Meril knew she should be studying, or practicing her glyphs, or doing anything but obsessing over her wizard. She was fully aware of this, but nevertheless she had not opened any of the books stacked in front of her, nor had she picked up her chalk. She had already taken, and almost certainly failed, nearly all of her exams. There was only the most important one left, the final test of an inkwarrior’s skill: mending the real.

She knew she’d fail it. Probably everyone in the house, down to the youngest child, knew she’d fail, but she had to take it nonetheless. After all, she couldn’t make the glyphs, and if you can’t write the symbols you can’t mend the real.

“I wish I could just quit,” Meril said to herself. But she knew it was impossible. There was nowhere she could go, and in any case she had no other skills. She would be an inkwarrior til she died, and she would never get to be with her wizard.

She buried her face in her hands and cried softly. She might as well resign herself to being the unwanted failure living in her family’s house.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, July 2019

This month’s word is grinding, meaning “to perform the operation of reducing to fine particles” or “to rub harshly; grate”.

I’m not especially happy with this one, because I wrote myself into a corner and couldn’t really resolve it in the time I had, but then the point is quick work rather than polished.

————–

I can hear it all the time: the terrible, deep grinding of the earth. It rattles my bones, vibrates through my teeth. I feel it too, a slow motion back and forth, a constant queasiness inside.

Nobody believes me, of course.

It’s simply not possible! is the kindest response I’ve received when I’ve told someone.

Usually they resort to impugning my sanity, maligning my intelligence, or questioning my honesty. But I know it’s real. I know something terrible is going to happen. I just don’t know what. Or when, exactly. But the sound is getting louder, or closer. And I feel an awful urgency, as though I need to stop the coming catastrophe.

And I would, if I knew what it was, or how to prevent it.

I’ve been hearing this noise for a long time. Years. So I do understand why people dismiss me. After all, I’ve been going on about this for a while. It would help if I had any idea what was going to happen. I guess it’s probably an earthquake but I really have no idea.

I dream about giants grinding their teeth and wake up sweating, convinced I’m about to be devoured. I’ve lost all my friends, my family think I’m crazy, and I haven’t been able to leave the house for months now. The feeling’s even worse outdoors.

I just want it to stop. I want to sleep without dreams, to walk outside without fear. To live. I just don’t know how to get there, to the place where that’s possible.

So I’ll continue to dream, to hide, to hate my life, until whatever is going to happen, happens. Then they’ll know I was right.

Assuming there’s anyone left to know.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, June 2019

This month’s word is energy, meaning “the capacity for vigorous activity; available power”. It’s going to be a short one.

————–

I’m fast-moving, high-octane; I never slow down. I barely sleep, just pace my room, mind racing, ready to spring into action at any moment.

Or that’s how I’d like to see myself. That’s how I imagine myself.

In actual fact, I’m slothful, lethargic. My imagination is active, but I am not. I drape myself over an armchair, and dream of action.

I desire heroism, and feats of derring-do; I crave the one perfect moment when I’ve saved the day, rescued the princess, and defeated the villain. I yearn to stand on a mountaintop, sword in hand, clutching a beautiful person to my chest.

But I will only ever have that in my dreams.

Because I am too damn lazy to put in the effort to get it. Just the thought of all the work required, the exercise and training and practice needed to become that hero, wearies me.

So I dram big dreams, and live a small life. It’s easier that way.

And easy is my middle name.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, May 2019

This month’s word is truth, meaning “the true or actual state of a matter” or “conformity with fact or reality; verity”.

————–

I always speak the truth; they always lie.

The two of us guard two doors: one leads to death, the other to your heart’s greatest desire. You know this story: the hero comes up to us and tries to ask the one question that will tell them which door to take.

Of course, rumours got around quickly about the right question to ask*, so it got pretty boring for us. And our boss had to grant loads of wishes; she hated that. So she came up with a twist: the correct door changes randomly, and when it changes, only one of us is told. This lends a certain randomness to our answers, and an element of confusion, sometimes. For example, if door A is now death, and I know that, but they don’t, then my answer to the question should be whichever the death door was on the last occasion that they knew the answer. This is extremely hard for me to keep track of, because I actually have a terrible memory. I usually go with the correct answer for what the doors are at now, but sometimes that means I’m not telling the truth.

This is causing me a lot of stress. If I’ve told a lie, even inadvertently, then I am not who I always thought I was. I’m not the one who always tells the truth, but neither am I the one who lies. I’m just somewhere in the middle, like one of you. And if I’m not the one who tells the truth, then who am I? Why am I here?

I’ve tried asking the one who lies about this, but they don’t seem to care. I shouldn’t care; I never used to. But something about the new rules unsettles me. I keep thinking that it’s not right. I don’t even understand the point of it now. We’re just randomly killing people. The boss should just replace us with a random number generator. Or come up with a different test. Maybe this is just outdated.

In any case, it might all be over soon. I heard that someone is suing the boss. Apparently their betrothed asked the right question, but got the wrong answer. So we might have to shut down. I don’t know how I feel about that. What does an archetype do when they’ve lost their function? I asked the one who lies, but of course their answer only ever tells me what they don’t think. And I’m realising now that some questions have more than one right answer.

I don’t know what to hope for. I don’t want to do this any more, but I don’t know if there’s anything else I can do. I have to stop talking now; the boss is coming. If you don’t hear from me again, assume the worst.

*The right question is: “if I asked the other person which door to take, what would they say?” and then you take the other door.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, April 2019

This month’s word is voice, meaning “the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc.”.

————–

I have an amazing voice. Everyone says so.

Sorry, I know that’s not what you asked. How did I first realise my talent, wasn’t it? I’m not sure I’d really call it a talent! It’s just a feature of me. I think, though, it was when I started going to school. I always thought that everyone reacted to children’s voices the way my family did to mine. I mean, you do, don’t you, when you’re little? You think everyone’s family is the same as yours. I thought everyone gathered around to listen adoringly to their children.

When I went to school, I suppose. I noticed that the teachers responded differently to the other children. And after a few weeks someone contacted the authorities and I was taken away from my family.

For my own good, they told me. They said it would be safer. Although they never made it clear who for.

After that, it was testing, testing and more testing. And then they decided to train me as a diplomat. Well, you know how that turned out! Accusations of undue influence, a UN resolution passed banning the use of people with “special abilities” in diplomatic positions, and of course, the Search.

Yes, I wish the Search had found someone else, anyone else, who was like me. It’s lonely being the only one. It’s lonely being me. I can’t even date, because I can’t turn it off. Why do you think I have this speech-to-text setup? Why do you think you’re in a separate room?

Because nobody trusts me, that’s why. Nobody wants to hear me speak any more. Because they’re afraid – you’re afraid – that I’m the monster. And I’m not useful any more, either, so why not lock me away? Can’t trust people like me, even if there are no other people like me. Can’t let me go, don’t want to kill me, just in case.

In case of what? That’s obvious, isn’t it? Never throw away a potential asset, right?

I don’t want to talk to you any more.

What do I want? I want to be normal. I want… I want to be able to have a conversation where the other person disagrees with me. I want to have a conversation where the other person can disagree with me.

You can’t give me that. Nobody can. So please go. And tell them I won’t give any more interviews. I’m tired, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be here any more.

Just leave me alone. It’s the only thing you can do for me now.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, March 2019

This month’s word is scar, meaning “a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn” or “a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma”.

————–

I have a lot of scars. It’s the first thing people notice about me. I run very warm, and I live somewhere hot, so I don’t wear much in the way of clothing. Anyway, it’s good advertising for me. Makes some people uncomfortable, but my job does that anyway.

I didn’t set out to be in this line of work. It’s not the kind of thing you dream of as a child. I mean, on the one hand, people come to you and bring you everything you could ever need, but on the other… Well. You lose all your friends, all your family. You live alone, because you can’t have even the appearance of favouritism. And most of all, everyone who sees you knows what you are. You can’t hide, you can’t be incognito – not with the brand on your face that cannot be removed or covered up; it shines through even if you wrap your head in cloth.

So how did I end up here? The same way most of my colleagues did: a lifetime of bad decisions, and a final choice of the “or death” variety. I’m not a truly evil person, or I’d’ve been summarily executed. But I’m by no means a good person either. Just your regular petty thug, really, and so I get to atone for my sins by eating those of others.

It’s not, as you might think, to ease those others’ burdens, to save their souls or send them to some heavenly reward. No, my job is to reduce the amount of sin in the world by eating it, taking it into my body. When I die, they’ll burn my body and offer the ashes to the gods, and that will destroy all the sins I’ve consumed. Or so they tell me.

It’s one of those things that seems very simple, but is actually very complex if you think about it. Essentially, someone comes to me, tells me their sin in as much detail as possible, I write it down on special edible paper, and then I eat it. Sounds ridiculous, right? I left out the part where the priests performed the ritual that turns a person into a sin eater, mostly because I don’t really remember it, and I also don’t like to think about it. It was extremely painful, that’s the main thing I recall. And of course every time I eat a sin, I get a mark on my skin, to indicate the sin’s been consumed. Those hurt, too. I guess they want to make sure I remember that this is a punishment.

Sometimes, if it’s been a busy day, I try to remember that I chose this. I chose to live, no matter how painful it might be. It doesn’t always help. But there’s no running away from this. If I leave my temple, I’ll die. So I carry on, day after day, and just wait for it to end.

What, you were expecting some kind of redemption? There’s none of that here, just pain. Deserved, true, but if I’d truly known what it would be like, I might not have made this choice. There’s no going back now, though. I have to live with it.

© bardofupton 2019

Writing project, February 2019

This month’s word is winged, meaning “having wings”.

————–

How do you tame a winged horse?

Some people say you tame it with kindness, befriending it gradually. Those who believed that died, flung off in midair by a beast they thought was their friend.

Some say you tame it by force, capturing it in a net or bridling it in its sleep. Those, too, are dead, trampled by the enraged beast.

The truth is that you don’t tame a flying horse, but if you are brave enough, perhaps you can make a deal with one.

First you need to locate a flying horse. They tend to live in remote and isolated locations: high mountain plateaus, for example, or rocky islands.

Once you’ve located the horse, you learn its habits, where it drinks, what it eats, and so on. Some flying horses are carnivorous, and some not. Some are nocturnal, and some are not. All are intelligent, and none are friendly. You try to discover something that will please it – food is often acceptable, although some winged horses enjoy small items that can be woven into their manes.

Then you approach, slowly and carefully, but also openly. Winged horses do not like being sneaked up on. Show no fear, because they will not make bargains with cowards. Carry your gift in your hands so they can see it, and do not carry any weapons. If you are armed, they will kill you. They may, of course, kill you anyway; that’s the risk you take.

Ensure you look at the horse you are trying to bargain with, but do not make sustained eye contact. They don’t like that; it reads as a threat.

Hold your gift out on your outstretched hands, and state the terms of the deal you want clearly. Ensure to include stipulations such as “no intentional injuries to be caused” and “to be delivered to the agreed destination within the agreed time period”. Winged horses will exploit any loopholes you leave.

If the horse agrees to your bargain, it will take your offering and allow you to mount it. If it does not, it will take your tribute anyway, and if you are lucky, it will let you go. If you’re not, well, I think you know by now what is going to happen.

Because of the slow and convoluted process involved, nobody has successfully ridden a flying horse. But perhaps you can be the first. If this is really what you want, don’t let me dissuade you. Go chase your dreams: at your own risk.

© bardofupton 2019