Category Archives: This Really Happened

We Might Not Come Back. Drink Anyway.

I’m moving away, and I’d like to talk about The Tavern.

Scene: Adventurer’s tavern. Night. The bar is full, and the old friends, gather at the same table. Again.

*FELIMIR
Well twas long, long ago, back when the trees were talkin’

KNIGHT FERGUS
T’was only yesterday.

FELIMIR
Yes, yes, I’m getting to it, there’s a formula you know.
Where was I?
A long time ago, long ago, so long ago that no one can remember and no tree can remember and no rock can remember, a place so far away beyon’t that –

KNIGHT FERGUS
It was last night across the river. Now tell the fighty bits.

FELIMIR
Alright, if you’ll have all the heart taken out if it.

Moving is the most stressful thing a human can experience. It’s loss, change, and the elimination of all points of reference. It can also be incredibly rewarding. I’m moving from Oakland, CA to a red state, and true to form, I’m all set to inject drama into this situation where perhaps there was none.

When I left New York, there were parties, yes, but there was also crying, gnashing of teeth, and “don’t go!” conversations.

When I moved from Seattle to San Francisco, only two friends came over to help me load the U-haul. There was no pomp or circumstance. We chatted and taped boxes as though it were any other Saturday afternoon, and parted with a “see ya.”

The lack of drama surprised me a bit.

I don’t typically keep friends for longer than five years. A friend once told me that your friends aren’t people you share values with; they’re the people you do stuff with. That made me think that friendships end because interests change. Another told me that when we move, we create a self-shaped void in the lives of those we left behind — but our life becomes a giant mass of voids (where do I hang out? Where’s the grocery store, place to watch the sun rise? Dojo? Job? Hospital? Coffee shop? Diner?). We get stressed, while everyone else is fine. The world rolls on without us, and the place we left disappears.

The last time I visited familiar places in New York, it felt like wearing a sweater that was too small. License plates were a different color. People had grown physically and emotionally. Items from my childhood that should have been dear sparked nothing in me. I was so unmoored from the things that were supposed to be meaningful that I felt the foundation of my identity crumble.

Because of those experiences, I anticipate losing people as soon as I meet them. The impermanence of relationships looms large in my brain. This fear became self-fulfilling. I freaked out with my New York friends, and tried to keep everything the same with an obsessive fervor. You can guess how badly that ended.

Since that time, I’ve tried to accept that paths diverge. My interests change, so do others’. People drift apart, so that’s ok.

The problem is that I’ve applied the same obsessive fervor to ACCEPTING THAT PATHS DIVERGE so I pull out the scissors as quickly as I once pulled out needle and thread.

It’s not the drifting or the grasping that’s destructive; it’s the fervor. 

Leaving my core group in California will be hard, just like it was hard to leave my core group in New York. These relationships have been special and illuminating — supportive and challenging. They’re all very different people, with different specialties and perspectives I would never have had access to. I felt sad, not that I was going to leave them; but that I was going to lose them.

When I mentioned this to one of them, they responded with an eye-roll.

“I’ve always taken some issue with your idea about paths diverging and not diverging and all that.”

“In what way?”

“In every way. You’ve been asking if we’re about to diverge since the second time we met.”

Even in my writing, the opening paragraph is usually this is the story of how it all went wrong. I’m so scared of the ending that it colors the beginning.

My friend said, “I see us on different adventures, constantly meeting in the tavern between quests, and then setting off on new ones in the morning. You’re my brother forever and I’ve been fucking loving you across the current of you asking me if our paths were diverging for, like, seven years. Calm down.”

Which brings us back to the tavern. It’s got a million names. It’s The Winchester, The Bronze, Ten-Forward, The Hanged Man, Cafe Solstice, Cafe La Boheme. Facebook. Twitter.

“This may be the last time we drink together in this tavern,” Felimir gloomed into his tankard.

“Dude,” said Fergus, “you get like this every time. Drink your fucking mead, we’ll be back in two days. Chill.”

Tomorrow morning we all have to get up and fight dragons, my friend said. I get that we’re all nervous about it, and we all have our own way of coping. Maybe you’re right, and it won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean it’s over. For fuck’s sake, just drink.

Where do you gather with your friends? A living room? A cafe? A chat box, or a number on speed-dial?

Where’s your tavern?

*Excerpt from: The Sorrows, or Deirdre From The Legend Kills Herself In Every Version But That Doesn’t Mean You Always Have To, currently under development through Custom Made Theater’s Undiscovered Works Series.

I have a story in GdM Issue #11

I just found out I’m sharing an issue of Grimdark Magazine with Brent Weeks.

This is a bit of a special moment for me.

When I was studying sword in rural China, I got sick. Coughing-blood sick. The only way to get medicine was through an IV, and I was set to go home in a few weeks, so I tried to tough it out.

Sifu took me aside one night and said if I didn’t go to the hospital and get the medicine, I’d die. At the time, it felt like a choice between dying now, or dying in ten years from something on a dirty needle.

I stayed up most of the night trying to decide, and struggling to breathe.

I did wind up going to the hospital, and was on an IV for three days. The Night Angel trilogy kept me company while I recovered, and took my mind off whatever consequences I’d have to face for my decision*.
When I got back to the US, my little brother mailed me a copy of his new favorite book, The Way of Shadows.

Everything turned out fine.

*(and my ignorant notions about country hospitals)

gdm11

GdM Issue #11 is up for pre-order, dropping on April 1.

FICTION
– Cry Wolf by Deborah A. Wolf
– Devouring the Dead by Laura Davy
– The First Kill by C.T. Phipps
– For Honour, For Waste by Setsu Uzume (reprint)

NON-FICTION
– The Odd Hopefulness of Grimdark by Matthew Cropley
– An Interview with Anna Smith-Spark
– Review: Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister
– An Interview with Brent Weeks
– Review: Sam McPheeters’ Exploded View

Pre-order now on:
Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/Gl3SsX
Amazon.co.uk: https://goo.gl/GCi3YA
Amazon.com.au: https://goo.gl/yyqhYl
Amazon.ca: https://goo.gl/9P2sBB

Or, sign up for your subscription now over on their Patreon page. You’ll get the issue delivered a few days earlier through here, too: https://goo.gl/jJUm2r

Add this issue on your Goodreads feed here: https://goo.gl/F0YjfM

I’m gender-fluid.

Gender-fluid is a gender identity which refers a dynamic mix of male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.

I’m gender-fluid. Here’s what that means to me.

My buddy and I went for a hike the other day, and back in their kitchen we got to talking about gender. They’re changing their pronouns in public for the first time, and they’re not sure if it will go over well, or smoothly, or if their self-description will accurately convey their being.

When I say I’m gender-fluid, here’s what I’m trying to convey:

As a kid, I was occasionally seen as a boy and told that the things I was interested in were boy things. I played a dude, as a dude, in a high school play. I sang with the boys for a few songs in choir. While I don’t feel un-female, I’ve come to understand that my stance shifts relative to the group I’m in and the role I take within that group. So now, when the vast majority of societal messages and cues tell me I do guy things, and act like a guy, I figure, “ok, I’m a guy. This is correct.”

Yet, the skin I wear fits, and I feel no need to change it.

I’ve met women that are tougher, harder, and butch-er that identify 100% as women. My experience doesn’t invalidate theirs, or vice versa. It’s a different mode.

For me, publicly identifying one way or the other helps set the tone. It contextualizes. It arranges for the response I want, and helps smooth interactions based on finding common ground.

That said, how you see me and what you call me has no bearing on what I am, which is why I’m not too hung up on pronouns… but I would feel like less if I were unable to shift. I would feel like less if I were asked to start, or stop, a particular gendered expression.

Identity is made up of a zillion categories and groupings, all of which have varying importance in someone’s life. Gender’s only one, like spirituality, or lineage. It’s not the first thing I’d mention when self-describing. Not because I’m ashamed, or not “out,” but because it’s not the most important lens through which I see myself.

It remains true, regardless.

If you feel like you’re this way, but didn’t have the word, now you do. If you feel like you’re alone in the way you are; you’re not.

While the language and the concepts might at first seem alien, or frustrating, or ridiculous, I appreciate that the conversations are becoming more commonplace. The more language we have, the more specific we can be — the better we’ll be able to understand, and be understood.

ar3-magazine-revised-final-web

This month, PodCastle, Pseudopod, EscapePod, and Cast of Wonders are running Artemis Rising 3, a celebration of female-identified and non-binary authors. Check ’em out.

Container Store Visualization

During one of the last coping skills classes, the instructor took us to the container store (visualization meditation. I like going places in my brainspace). She told us to pick out a container. Could be a tupperware, could be a shoebox, anything that catches your eye. Then we had to put something in it, and put the box somewhere, to help shelve the problem in the event we’re not really able to deal with it right now. Some of my classmates put their containers under the bed, or buried under flowers in the backyard, or shipped it around the world so that they’d have a few months before it was returned to sender.

I picked a stone urn, where the lid was held in place by the clamped jaws of five dragons, then I threw it off a cliff and into the sea. We’re coming up on a year since that shitstorm. There are some riddles about it I haven’t solved yet, but rather than 30% brainspace I’m about ready to give it 2%, then maybe 1%, and hopefully, eventually, archive it entirely unless it’s absolutely relevant.

There is no “back to normal,” just the new normal.

 

Today holds:
Finishing touches on the script
Consultation with a game designer
Short story revisions
Probably brownies and wine.

I really wish it would rain.

 

P.S. one of my friends joked, “imagine finding that on a beach.” There’s a story seed for you.

Birthday Wisdom and Tank Drift 2016!

Quick note… I went to the beach to watch the sun go down on the Solstice. Which is also, frequently, also Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday.

solstice

Summer Solstice was accompanied by a full moon, which hasn’t happened since the year my dad was born. To make an already memorable day even more fantastic, we saw three whales and a dolphin, spouting, tail-flipping, and more than one breach. The clouds looked like an oil painting, casting a rose-colored glow over everything. I wish I could have recorded it all, to convey the depth and breadth of the open beach — the pine and sea smell, the waves, and birdsong — and yet feeling cradled by mother nature in perfect peace.

Each year, I request wisdom rather than gifts for my birthday. Here are the collected thoughts and musings of 2016.

  1. Get off the line of attack, blend with the force directed at you.
  2. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.
  3. Be as kind to yourself inside your head as you are to your friends.
  4. Plan for success as well as you plan for failure.
  5. Live as though the world were the it should be, to show it what it can be
  6. We have as much power to sculpt reality as environment and situation provide, though we can always grasp further.
  7. It’s okay to realize that some responses are instinctive rather than considered, especially once you become aware of that.
  8. You can’t save other people. They can only save themselves. You can only help. You can save yourself. You should ask for help.
  9. Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.
  10. Show people you love them while they are here.
  11. Being ethical in your business conduct is more important than making money.
  12. Obituary columns are filled with love, while most of our lives are filled with minutiae. Tell people what they mean to you while it still matters. Also, if you really like a bit of wisdom, neck-tattoo that mofo asap!
  13. The Girl Scouts have a saying, that we should leave a campsite in better condition than it was when we arrived. It means, as we bravely forge a new path into the wilderness, not only do we have a responsibility to tread lightly and avoid doing damage but make a place better by our presence.
  14. Force and flow. Sometimes you need to use force to move obstacles in your life, but sometimes you need to just flow around them. Be the river, which is both. 
    knifeknife
  15. As you go through life, ask yourself, “What am I doing to positively impact the world?” I have struggled with this one, and it took me years to realize that “the world” doesn’t mean it needs to have a global impact, but really means to think beyond yourself and see the impact you make around you. This can be on any scale: global, national, regional, local, your community (whatever form it may be), friends, and/or family. When I’m having a bad day in one area (at work, for instance) I think about where I may be having a positive impact somewhere in the world (bringing joy to friends on FB, providing housing to local bees, being a loving pet parent).
  16. Focus on what you love, and what you can control. Keep trying. Surround yourself with kindness.
  17. The hardest part of any task is starting. It gets easier after that. Also, the world is full of bastards and backstabbers. Never let them grind you down.
  18. You can have anything you want, you just can’t have *everything* you want.
  19. Things are never as bad, or as good , as they first appear. It is amazing how as we get older, mature wisdom begins to resemble being too damn tired. Don’t sweat small change.
  20. The Dick abides.
  21. Never date a man who owns a white van or knows all the words to Monty Python.
  22. Dear sister! I learned from Terry Pratchett that as soon as you finish writing something immediately, without pause, wrote at least a little of the next piece. That way you don’t get stuck between projects.
  23. Only you can make yourself change. Also, everyone gets Stuck. It takes a lot of work to get Unstuck, but the work can be done in little pieces. The best way to get something done is to begin.
  24. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter what troubles you encounter in life… there are nine hundred million people in India who really don’t give a shit. So you might as well be happy.
  25. No matter how cold and wet you are, just as long as you’re warm and dry…
  26. Kelly Shiflet Treat yo’ self! Especially with high tea, warm scones and cream!
  27. When faced with big decisions think about others and then yourself. Also, syrup is good on pancakes and everything else.
  28. Elders ‘taught’ me (sometimes with a sledgehammer…) that it isn’t about achieving what you want or acquiring things or attaining goals, it is about thinking and doing the right thing in the moment of decision that is Now. Most everything else is an illusion.
  29. This is a simple one, but when I wanted to go backpack around New Zealand and Australia for a year and was getting overwhelmed by everything I needed to do to do that, my mom told me “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” I’ve kept to that motto for the twenty plus years since.
  30. Three pieces of wisdom from the same brilliant source: 1) there isn’t any dream so huge that it can’t be divided up into manageable steps; 2) “Because if you are yourself as loud as you can be, you’ll only find yourself in places where you’re accepted, and then good things will happen….. LIKE WHALES!”; 3) “so feel your feels the way they feel/ and don’t fight them too hard/ all the flowers plants and cacti too/ all have their place in the yard.” Oh and this one, from the same brilliant source as the above. Reduce your tolerance of fuckery yearly, possibly with treaties and a fuckery reduction council. If you are approaching your fuckery tolerance limit, it is sometimes acceptable to share with friends who have not yet reached their fuckery quota, but proceed with caution and the understanding that we all need to gradually eliminate our reliance on fuckery and make the transition to a zero-fuckery-powered society. And while we will probably fail in the short run, in the long run this will be better for everyone. This has been a carefully considered attribution with commentary.
  31. Honestly, Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try.” That’s gotten me to finish more stories than anything else. And while I’ve never seen the marked-up drafts of the Empire script, hidden away in a Lucasfilm vault as they are, I have always deeply suspected that line was one of Leigh Brackett’s.
  32. Remember why you do what you do…and tell the people you love that you love them.
  33. Always consider the alternative point of view. And fail a lot — you learn better that way.
  34. Dance.
  35. It is never too late to have a happy childhood.strawberries
  36. Tell the people in your life you love them. Every chance you get. Also be as positive as you can. You will have bad days but when you share something Positive, it helps others too. You never know whose lives you have touched by being a positive light in the world. Yes it is sappy but true. I know because I have had it hit me when I was told “You inspired me to do X.” That’s the best. And very humbling, too.tank girl
  37. Always create. The time will go by anyway. Create even when you doubt. You never know who you are inspiring.
  38. Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself – just a bit better than you would feel about yourself without them.
  39. When you feel like you really get it and your technique is working, you are not learning, just practicing what you’ve learned. When you are struggling and confused, that is when you’re actually learning. One of many useful lessons from my Aikido instructors. It’s helped me to be patient with myself through the learning process (on and off the mat), which is often daunting.

    Transplanting the feathers from a snapped arrow to a limping one.

    Transplanting the feathers from a snapped arrow to a limping one.

  40. Get a kitten.
  41. I don’t do wisdom, but always remember you’re awesome and ther
    e are people who get you…not everyone, but then some use different definitions of the term.
  42. I’ve always lived by this “koan” from British humorist Spike Milligan’s science fiction play, The Bedsitting Room: “Happiness is egg-shaped.”
  43. All things in moderation. Especially Moderation.
  44. If you try to be anybody but yourself, you’re going to fail. Be you. Be the best you possible.
  45. You can’t “should” people into doing what you want them to.
  46. You can’t bully someone into loving you.
  47. Think carefully on the negative archetypes within your own personality. What positive aspects do they have? For example, an addict’s determination and perseverance.
  48. If someone were to ask you why you work hard in those areas, and if you were to answer “to give to others”, how would you respond if then challenged with the question, “Then what are others here for?” This year on your birthday, think long and hard about what things you accept as virtues, and why it is you see them as such. Who in your life reinforces the perception of those things as virtues? Do those virtues truly serve you or do they serve the people who perceive them as virtues? …In short, look for the most subtle ways in which others might be exploiting you, and put an end to it for a while, just to see how it feels.
  49. Much satisfaction can be found in the intersection of the serenity prayer and the oracle’s command to Socrates.shuriken
  50. (In response to, “my sail has become a tablecloth/my shuriken have become coasters.”  They –and you — exist in both states. Shuriken were hidden as belt decorations and deadly weapons. We are, none of us, just one thing at any one time.
  51. Perhaps they (and you) are not so much domesticated as lying in wait for the next opportunity.
  52. What I should have had was a plan. What I should have done was examine why I felt so small that I had to prove anything at all… There’s a god in you. Be like him. He’s the coolest motherfucker you will ever meet. The more you act like him. The more you become him.

Finally… these are the two bits I figured out on my own and want to remember this year.

First, the only difference between the heroes of good and evil is that evil has resigned itself to what must be done. Good mourns.

Also… There are people that will make me feel not only unloved, but unlovable. That is not a reason to change. That is a reason to get as far away from that person as possible.

tank drift

Happy birthday. Happy Solstice. Happy 2016. Despite its brutality, despite the losses we’ve suffered, hold close the truth that the planets do align… and there are whales.

pair02

Magnolias in the Wind

My friend invited me to go hiking with her in the hills behind our school. We climbed almost straight up it was so steep. Then my friend said, come on, come on, I have to show you this. We got to the top of one particular plateau where a magnolia tree stood at the edge. There was just enough room for the tree and us, stage and audience. Soft petals lay all over the yellow dusty earth.  The tree had been shaped by the wind, like a dancer in mid-motion.

 

High on the mountain, and far from the sea
I came across a magnolia tree
It stood on an outcrop, as plain as can be
All hunched ‘gainst the wind, dusted and dirty
Half of its petals were buried in scree
Its roots all curled in, like wrought filigree
Despite the stark landscape, rusted and dingy
Touches of pink fringed one side, hopefully
It grew and it frayed, but it held steadfastly
Knowing one day a local would say, “come with me.”

Behind the Scenes: For Honor, For Waste

My story, “For Honor, For Waste,” went live today at Podcastle, elegantly read by the fierce Nadia Niaz.

When the call went out for the Women in Practical Armor anthology, nearly everyone I know sent me the link and told me to submit a story. I realized that I didn’t have any stories that fit the theme, so I thought about women who were defined by their armor. By their equipment. The world has a dire lack of stories about the power of older women, much less older WOC women — so I knew I wanted to write a story about sexy, badass, post-menopausal veterans.

I read about a festival celebrating a goddess’s menstrual cycle, which had me thinking about purity, and how religions pick different standards of virtue. Then I came across a documentary about early engineering in Moorish Cordoba, and the setting started to take shape.

What if these three women — these seasoned veterans — were asked to sacrifice themselves to a goddess. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been failed by the bureaucracy, but were good enough at their jobs to both stay alive and rise to power.

In my head, these three looked at each other, looked at the sacrifice orders, and said, “…this is bullshit. Why don’t we kill her instead?”

And the story began.

In the beginning, the animosity between Kejra, Nouli, and Rohnaq was much more reserved. Rohnaq collected Kejra from a bar, and Nouli didn’t show until much later. You could tell that they loved each other, and their banter was closer to ribbing than cutting. You can see, through their body language, and the way they finish each other’s sentences, how close they are.

Once Rohnaq revealed the things she’d done in the name of her principles and career, the rift between the three went deeper. The tension ramped up. 

In my experience, friendship forged between martial artists, (and possibly between veterans) is defined by the fact that we play rough. We push each other hard. We’ve suffered together, and taken pride in it. My little brother and I met as pre-teens and absolutely hated each other. He’s made me bleed, and I’ve broken his nose — but I wouldn’t want anyone else at my back in a crisis, because I know what he’s capable of. I was there. I put him through it. We are better because we were rough on each other. We trust each other’s strength because we’ve witnessed it. Whatever happens, we’ll handle it. We won’t crumble. We won’t disappear.

To outsiders this looks like abuse, but it’s not. Because of our context, it is respect, love, and trust. Rohnaq hits hard; but Kejra and Nouli know her, and know why she did what she did. Their history begs the question of whether or not such a bond can be repaired — and that’s when the story went beyond its action-adventure inception. This story didn’t make it into Women in Practical Armor, but after a few more revisions it found a home.

This is the first scene I wrote of the first draft, which I call the story’s “baby photo.” I was very sad to cut the bit with the mirrored dish, but ultimately it didn’t fit. 

 

For Honor, For Waste
(1st scene, 1st draft)

Hannot, Johannes; Still Life: Fruit and Oysters on a Table; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-life-fruit-and-oysters-on-a-table-205166

Hannot, Johannes; Still Life: Fruit and Oysters on a Table

Kejra tossed her walking stick at an attendant and collapsed onto a cushioned chair. She pushed the stopper from the bottle with her thumb and it dropped to the table, bounced, and rolled off while she took a swig. “A fine honor, to be sent to our death as a gift for Manaph!” She leaned forward on the table, stabbing it with her index finger. “When we took the Lejine Span, we made an effort to learn their language so that the tax laws could be enforced with compassion. Those barbarians would sacrificed the most beautiful, most talented girl and boy to the river to prevent it from flooding. The custom of shared ways enriches and stains in equal measure.”

Nouli made a beckoning gesture and Kejra passed her the bottle. She sat gracefully and without a sound, taking the time to pour a measure into a glass. “And if we are not to fight each other for this honor, what shall it be instead?  Poetry?”

“Oh we’ll fight,” said Rohnaq. “But… not each other.”

Kejra arched a brow at the city commander. “The oligarchs won’t put up with that sort of thing. If we don’t fight, our provinces will be punished. Our families will lose their holdings.”

“That’s their aim in the first place. Don’t you see? Between the three of us we run the military. General Vesher had her day when he united the peninsula fifteen years ago and since then she’s been sitting on her wealth. The oligarchs still pay her prettily but she’s left the day to day running of the city in my hands. It’s the same with you and the archers, isn’t it, Nouli? And you Kejra? When was the last time you received more than perfunctory orders regarding the infantry? Problem in Lejine, take care of Tarjine, rebels in Affojine. That’s not leadership. We haven’t been chosen by Manaph, we’ve been offered up by a threatened general.”

“Perhaps you seek insults where none exist,” said Nouli. “We perform our duties as ordered. Lack of specificity indicates Vesher’s faith in our ability. I never liked being loomed over while I work.”

“Then you plan to take the honor according to the proper performance of Manaph’s rite?” Kejra asked.

Nouli faced Rohnaq with her shoulders back and her chin held at an imperious level. Despite her challenging stance, her voice remained soft. “I have sons and daughters to carry on my clan and they have been well-educated to maintain our holdings for their children. If I am to be offered to Manaph, then I accept the honor.”

Kejra shook her head with a chuckle, taking her wine bottle back. Rohnaq pressed her palm on the mouth of the bottle, preventing Kejra from taking a drink.

“She’ll come to us at the offering ground,” said Rohnaq. “Between us three, we could drive her back.”

Kejra’s barking laugh caused the other two to wince. “You cannot drive back a goddess of love; never mind a blood-frenzied creature like Manaph. Managing a city takes intelligence, Rohnaq. It is a pity that your imagination has not been tempered by it.”

Rohnaq’s eyes slid to Nouli’s. “Surely you are not eager to die. Not when you could best fulfill your duty by remaining a marklord.”

“Sacrifice is–“

“Wasteful,” Rohnaq said, correcting her.

“Ah yes, wasteful,” said Kejra. “We can’t abide waste in the service, can we?”

“All war is waste,” said Nouli. “Wasted lives, wasted lands, wasted silver in poorly managed supply chains.”

“We can stop it. The three of us.” Rohnaq kept her eyes locked on Nouli. “You, Kejra and I. If we agree to take the honor as sisters-in-arms, out of respect for each other’s accomplishments, the oligarchs will be forced to send us all to Manaph. Then we can strike together. That is excellence.”

“They will think we have something planned. I will not have my husband and children threatened because you are afraid to die,” said Nouli. “Or have you forgotten what’s at stake for the rest of us? You foreswore family, property, and lineage when you became City Commander. You have nothing else.”

“Then you see why I cannot allow you to die.”

Kejra sniffed. Nouli averted her eyes. Rohnaq looked at the floor for a moment, and swallowed. Perhaps they were afraid. Rohnaq had thought she had become inured to the anxiety that frayed her resolve on the eve of battle; but this was something more. The admission of need, of family, of something to lose felt like a blood-letting; and yet it was the truth. It was accurate, and accuracy had saved them more than once. “The three of us have been together since we began. Even you, Kejra. You stuck with us even though you outranked us in the beginning. I am not afraid to die, but I prefer to live.”

“The warrior’s road leads to oblivion,” Kejra quoted, “to face each dawn in full knowledge that it will be the last; and feel no fear in certainty.”

“And you will be better able to protect your lands, your holdings, and your grandchildren if you return to them. You have fought so hard for so long to reach this point, my friend. You are too good to throw yourself away like this.”

Nouli fingered one of her iron-grey braids, still thick despite her years.

“Perhaps we have all grown sentimental in old age,” said Kejra, “But I think I would rather fight alongside you and Rohnaq than try to edge either of you out in competition; even if the prize is to be eaten by a goddess.”

“Then we’re agreed?” said Rohnaq.

“I was nearly twenty years old at the end of the Seeding Cycle and I remember her well. She’s as big as a house,” said Kejra. “And covered in armor.”

“Yes, I was seven when she last appeared. Her armor was segmented, and she had a face. Those sound like weaknesses to me.”

Nouli considered Rohnaq for a moment. “I will hear your strategy,” she said, folding her arms as her cloak draped back over her and nearly closed, like a priest’s. “Then I will decide.”

Rohnaq turned to Kejra, suddenly animated. “Remember the siege when Forlinnet came through the tunnel under the southwestern wall? Nouli, you weren’t there for this.”

Kejra straightened and knitted her brow to remember. “In Subaipo or…?”

“No, this was earlier. Remember? They filed in just between the two archers’ towers at the second wall?”

Kejra glanced at Nouli. “We don’t have enough archers to put Manaph in a pincer like that.”

Rohnaq shook her head. “We don’t need to. There’s only one Manaph. The point is, we’ll direct her toward one path, Nouli shoots her from above, and then you run in sideways and open her up to stab her heart. Surprise flank.”

“It won’t work,” said Nouli. “Manaph’s cave drops into the sea and she’s armored like a crushclaw. Crushclaws are solid on top so that the sea birds can’t attack them directly, my arrows would bounce right off. If her form even remains that way.”

Kejra upended a mirrored dish and fruit rolled from the table onto the floor.  She breathed on it, and then started drawing their positions on the fogged surface. “Then you’ll need to be in front of her. Especially if she rears. She’s got armor underneath also.”

“There’s no cover!” Nouli objected.

“How far can you shoot, a hundred strides?” asked Rohnaq. “Age must have taken your sight or your strength from you.”

Nouli scoffed. “I have lost neither. It doesn’t matter if she thrashes, I could hit her with thumbnail accuracy at two-hundred; but that’s not the question.” Nouli pointed to Kejra’s mirror. “The span of her offering ground is less than one hundred strides. The question is whether or not my arrows will be heavy enough to penetrate. It doesn’t make sense to bring a longbow to fight at middle-range. The oligarchs will expect me to have a smaller weapon if we giving the appearance of fighting one another. I don’t know if a smaller poundage would even harm her.”

“If she hungers, she can be killed,” said Rohnaq, grimly.

“So that leaves you and I to open her armor,” said Kejra.

Rohnaq picked up a grape, an almond, and a broken square of hardcake, placing each one on the mirror. “Nouli, this is you.” She placed one finger on the purple grape, rolling it back and forth at the far perimeter of the span. “I will be here,” she placed the almond in front of the smudge indicating Manaph’s cave, with the sharp tip pointing toward it. “Then Kejra, here, at her flank. Your spear will be able to prize her open.”

“Mighty Rohnaq, controlling the funnel.” Kejra laughed. “I hope age has taught you more grace. I still remember your face when tried to free your sword from Forlinnet’s spine. Messiest beheading I’ve ever seen.”

Nouli stared down in silence, offering no argument.

“It’s settled, then.” Rohnaq picked up the almond in one gloved fist and swept the mirror clean, spilling the grape and cake-crumb to the floor. She popped the almond into her mouth and chewed. “Try not to get in each other’s way.”