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LMS VI: Built In a Day



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Tue Aug 09, 2022 4:48 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



CW: violence, gore, recreational drug use, death, implied sexual content, sexual references

@Ventomology: do the thing again
me: okay again

yeah I've written two novels already, but those were for a project I got bored of/felt like I could do better than, so here's a very distant prequel to my current project. It's about playing the harp, writing poems for your girlfriend, polyamory, the military-industrial complex, blood feuds, and long-standing traditions coming from people making things up as they go along. exciting stuff.

I'll also probably be throwing some poems in here. Current goal is to write at least two a week. I normally write five or six, so that shouldn't be an issue, but I don't want to hold myself to that many.

We'll see how this goes. I'm trying to get a job, so that might affect how much I'm able to write. Especially because there's this horrible job with a midnight-8 am shift that I'm vaguely interested in.

some nice and relaxing prokofiev to set the mood
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Tue Aug 09, 2022 4:50 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



note: many/most of these characters are anthropomorphized animals. it's symbolic. you wouldn't get it. please don't ask me questions about it or I will cry.

Characters


Viewpoint Characters


Vela Laetanus (she/her) - Lion. Distant relative and servant of the noble Laetanus family. A third cousin of the family head, she was born in poverty to parents who ran a bakery. While a few siblings joined the orphan of the state program, she stayed around and eventually learned how to manage the store. Between that and some family connections, she was able to get a metaphorical foot in the door and started working for her noble relatives. Under the supervision of the family head's aunt, Agrippina, she was eventually able to earn the family name. She's basically an event coordinator, handling the logistics behind parties, public ceremonies, and the occasional military procession. As an increasingly well-known harpist and poet, she's also been the family's unofficial diplomat/public face. She's been trying to juggle supporting her parents financially, keeping her name, writing sick poems for her girlfriend, and getting better as a harpist. She keeps busy. Fairly outgoing and personable, but gets quieter when she's stressed (and she's almost always stressed). Soft-spoken, still trying to adjust to noble culture. Coming into her own as a composer and a performer - she's still getting trained, but she has a knack for making popular pieces. Can be a little self-destructive and obsessive, especially when it comes to her writing and music. 29 years old, 5'7", more willowy, brown eyes.

Felias Ferox (she/her) - Lion. Queen of Caelis if you believe her, Lady Ferox if you don't. The current head of the family after the sudden and not even remotely suspicious death of her mother, Petronia, sometime last year. Her mother and grandparent oversaw the rise of the Ferox family and the construction of Caelis, and she's trying to keep their legacy intact. She doesn't have much power of her own (at least, right now) - while Felias has been training in everything from military leadership to civil administration, nobody expected Petronia to fall sick and die. As such, Felias is trying to find her own footing, depending on the relatives around her to keep the city intact and try to pull the other families into the Ferox sphere of influence. Kind of a tense situation, since several of those relatives could have stood to gain from Petronia's death. But everyone has to act polite and friendly around each other, since the Ferox family needs to put up a strong front to be taken seriously. Commanding presence and a quick wit, just like her mom. Terrible at emotional honesty, even around her spouses. Would like to be taken a bit more seriously by the older members of her family. Feels like she never got to have a childhood. Paranoid and suspicious. 25 years old, 6'1", fairly muscular, brown eyes. Has musical anhedonia (music doesn't make sense to her).

Luciana (she/her) - Lion. A soldier in the service of the Aescanus family. She had been brought into the orphans of the state program when she had been an infant, so she may or may not have ever seen her family? Either way, she'd been raised to be a soldier, so she was a bit miffed when, about a year or two ago, she was sent off to the Aescanus estate in Caelis to act as a low-level manager in some of the family's construction projects. She knows that the only reason she's a manager is because they consider her disposable. Not terribly motivated, hates her essentially dead-end job and her co-workers. Would really like all the glory of battle without the risk of debilitating injury. Bitter, sarcastic, doesn't open up easily. May or may not be thinking about running away, which would come with the risk of getting hunted down and killed as a deserter. Which somehow doesn't completely deter her. 22 years old, 5'5", also muscular, green eyes.

Avita (she/her) - Lion. A soldier in the service of the Thalassina family. She was raised as an orphan of the state, and she currently works as a guard on one of the boats of an otter merchant-king. Kind of a boring job, honestly. Other than the pirates and the occasional fights between merchant-kings, it's mostly an opportunity to go sailing up and down the river [what is the river named? uhhhh I'll get back to you on that]. She's not a big fan of the glory of battle in any case, so she's pretty happy with her job. She has a couple partners among the dockworkers/sailors, and she tries to find time to hang out with them. Also struggling a bit to find the funds and resources she needs to transition (social transitioning is pretty easy - neither the lions nor the otters care about that kind of thing - but medical transitioning is kind of a pain in a faux-medieval setting). Probably the friendliest and most extroverted out of the main cast. Not terribly motivated when it comes to most things, kind of used to the Thalassina family's upheaval and infighting getting in the way of what she wants to do. A bit of a pushover. The most honest about her emotions. 23 years old, 6'0", muscular (vela is a limp noodle compared to everyone else), blue eyes.


Plot



Setting


I probably want to start with some backstory - a few of the lions (generally in the form of large social groups/polycules) decided to give up their semi-nomadic life in the savannah and move south to the plains. They ended up working as mercenaries for the local rabbit lords (who brought crops to the river) and the river otter merchant-kings (who traded those crops and assorted other goods all along the river, and even with traders coming in from the sea). Those mercenaries started assembling into groups, and then into families with a clear hierarchy and leaders (essentially nobility, so they're often called the noble families). Kind of a mess from there - lion families fought each other to consolidate control over the plains and the river, with different families rising to and falling from power. One particularly strong family (Ferox) decided to broaden their horizons. They settled down at a spot close to the ocean, started negotiating deals between the river and sea traders (especially hiring out soldiers to go all over the world), and made a ton of money. So much money, in fact, that the Ferox family could start exerting control over the other families. It wasn't long before the Ferox family flattened the trading posts and makeshift towns in the area and started to build their capital. Other families, wanting a piece of the action, also moved into the area.

That led to Caelis, probably the only place that you (the hypothetical audience) are going to care about. The city's about 30 years old right now? It's both an architectural dream and a nightmare. On the bright side, there's a ton of fabulously wealthy people coming in who are happy to spend their fortunes on palaces, gardens, barracks, and whatever else their hearts desire. As such, they've been pulling in architects from surrounding kingdoms, and even some far-off ones. The downside is that these families still hate each other, have a penchant for solving problems with violence, and are desperately trying to one-up each other. A lot of buildings have been hastily made and don't have a ton of structural integrity. The road network is a confusing nightmare. Let's not even think about sewage.

The Ferox family essentially oversees the city - they have the most soldiers, and they're in charge of civil administration. They've been desperately trying to corral the other families, both as a power move and to keep the city from falling apart. That's been a bit of a challenge, which the Ferox family has tried to handle in a couple ways. The Ferox family claims to be royalty, and they've made up a whole story about how past prominent families were also royalty. The noble families don't exactly buy that, but it's been a potent tool for noble families descended from past "royal" ones. Setting up a council with a mediator (the Regulus) between the Ferox family and the noble families was another not terrible move. Especially the part where the assorted families got to decide who was a big enough deal to be in the council, i.e. who's really a noble family. Tons of negotiations, tons of bureaucracy, but it all basically somehow sort of works.

I'll copy-paste the climate stuff because I don't want to write it all out again: humid subtropical climate. Relatively stable temperature year-round, rarely goes above 90 F in the summer or below freezing in the winter. Consistently gets cooler air from the ocean. Can have storms come in from the west/northwest – thunderstorms are common in spring/early summer, and there are a few snowstorms in winter. Blizzards are rare. Has sometimes been impacted by tropical or extratropical storms (though I think that’s more of a problem farther north). Basically like a mashup of Buenos Aires and New York City.

have I ever been to Buenos Aires or New York City before? no. have I ever lived by an ocean before? no. I'm just going to assume oceans are bigger lakes and hope I don't regret it.



(note to self: write this out eventually)
Last edited by TheSilverFox on Sat Aug 27, 2022 9:22 pm, edited 12 times in total.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Wed Aug 10, 2022 1:11 am
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Ventomology says...



I see your Rome reference buddy.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled
  





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Wed Aug 10, 2022 9:00 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



it won't be the last one lol
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Thu Aug 11, 2022 12:52 am
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Ventomology says...



Fox did you read Redwall as a kid
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled
  





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Thu Aug 11, 2022 1:17 am
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TheSilverFox says...



:smt022

a little yeah
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Mon Aug 22, 2022 4:52 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



wait what does a harp sound like


one of the main characters plays a harp, but I don't actually know that much about the harp repertoire. I'm more of a piano person (though modern pianos come from the pianoforte, which was supposed to improve the dynamic control and range of the harpsichord, so without doing any more research, I can probably say pianos are just sideways harps). here's what some french and russian romantics think a harp sounds like:

Tchaikovsky - Pas de deux
Debussy - Sonata for flute, viola, and harp
Ravel - Introduction and allegro for harp, flute, clarinet, and string quartet (ravel my beloved)
Debussy - Danse sacree et danse profane for harp and string quartet
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Fri Sep 02, 2022 8:45 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



poems


according to my computer, I've written somewhere in the ballpark of 650 poems (they're all in one file, but that file doesn't have every poem I've ever written, and there's a few duplicates in there). that's a decent number of poems, but maybe I'll write more, we'll see.

(any poems I write for LMS will go here. I might also throw in some older ones, for flavor).

sinquefeld cup (32 lines)

Spoiler! :
it's funny to me that people being good at chess -
in a book or a film or a TV show or what have you -
is supposed to be some sign of intelligence.
yeah, I know princes used to learn chess
in the hopes they'd pick up strategy,
and those sacrifices and checkmates
make for some potent symbolism,
and there's something to be said
about the pattern recognition and memory required
to recall any of however many thousands
or ten of thousands of chess games
grandmasters have either seen or played before,
and, sure, the creativity
to handle a completely new position
and follow it through to a win.
all the same, if I see someone
who can haul ass on the chessboard,
all I can assume is they're just good at chess -
they know how a few different pieces
move across a black and white square board
and they can calculate however many lines
in their heads they need to find a way
to keep the game going, or maybe
they know when to call it a day.
plus, chess is one of those things
that one can only really get better at
by doing it a lot, so who knows
what else the chess player's given up
for the sake of playing chess
(not blaming them, of course -
it's by no means the worst thing
anyone could dedicate themselves to).


try not to break anything (22 lines)

Spoiler! :
my parents keep these wide-rimmed vases
on the back porch, by the steps leading
into the grass, which, even dying
after months of heat followed by the dry fall
blowing in and smothering everything in leaves,
is still more alive than the scattered weeds
crawling over under between chunks of dirt.
my parents only plant flowers sometimes -
always in the spring, usually not perennials.
and yeah, it's not a great place to grow things,
what with the april and may snowstorms
and the may and june hailstorms
and even the rabbits and squirrels and crows
hopping on nibbling at crapping on everything,
but it's weird doing nothing with those vases
half of the time, they just sit there
taking up space while I have to move the cord
to my electric lawnmower around them
or they'll fall down the steps.
at this point, they're just here to make it look like
our porch isn't completely devoid of life, and for halloween
we might stick little gravestones in them or something.


covid (26 lines)

Spoiler! :
I can stand up
without getting dizzy anymore,
and walking down a hallway
doesn't make me want to throw up,
and I'm not getting goosebumps
all over my skin while my face
feels like it's burning somehow,
and I'm not swallowing phlegm
over and over again
trying to force it down
my throat because it's so sore
I have to scream everything I say
so it comes out as more than
some scratchy mess,
but I think the part I hate more
are the couple weeks between that
and when I'm back to normal,
all the sniffing and coughing
and bloodshot eyes and heaving chest
and lurching through my day
with all that brain fog
drowning out what I was supposed to do
or who I was supposed to talk to
and everything's just a little,
uncomfortable, enough
that I can't just ignore it.


paint the corn (16 lines)

Spoiler! :
rain at the edge of thunderstorms
turning misty in the sunlight
like ghostly fingers dragging themselves
down green cornfields turning yellow
waiting for autumn to come, looking
like they were painted, in the sense
that you can see the brushstrokes
in the gaps between the rows,
divided, neatly organized, waiting
to be cut up and ground and shipped
and flown and driven and sold,
the chaff rotting on the ground
to become next year's crop,
like the rain's the painter
admiring their handiwork
before it has to go on the auction block.


pause (29 lines)

Spoiler! :
if I'm listening to music
and I hit the pause button
halfway through, walk away
to talk to someone
or do chores
or head out somewhere,
I'll come back to a different song.
I'll hit the play button
and it'll sound like a jumbled mess
of notes drowning each other out,
fighting for the spotlight
until I pick up on the melody
and I remember where I paused.
so sometimes I'll be in my room
sitting on the couch
counting down the seconds
until the song's over,
watching the clock tell me
I'm a minute, two minutes, three minutes
late, because I'd rather have
the song as it was meant
to be listened to, and not
find myself jumping over the gap,
stumble because I can't
stick the landing, and wait
however long before
my head starts bobbing again
and I can lose myself
in the music.


and it takes me a few seconds after I wake up to remember I've graduated (15 lines)

Spoiler! :
you know, I keep having this dream
that I'm taking some high school class
(either because I didn't graduate
or it's for college credit),
and every time I'm sitting down
at my laptop or my old computer
and scrolling through all the lessons -
most of them don't have assignments,
but they're all long and have readings,
as in parts of novels or something,
and every time I tell myself
it can wait, I've got other classes
and I can probably bang out all the reading
in a month or so, and that's about when
I'll wake up.


I'd like to get a life eventually (26 lines)

Spoiler! :
struggling to get out of bed in the morning
because it's not like I need to;
I don't do anything before lunch
other than sit on my couch watching videos
or maybe sending out an email or two
or maybe writing out some notes for a novel.
and besides, the sheets are warm,
and I'm cozy here resting my head
on the pillow with an arm underneath
scrolling through twitter on my phone,
and also chess tournament results,
oh and national hurricane center forecasts,
and a couple different webcomics,
and I'm getting into sumo now? sure.
and I can't forget all those discord channels
I'll spend a couple seconds trying to read through
before giving up and skipping past however many
hundreds of messages people sent last night,
and in the back of my head I know
if I get a job I can't do this anymore,
I'll have to get up at like seven
or maybe six-thirty, do my morning routine,
and haul ass to work, and I don't know
if I should start leaning into that
so it's easier for me to adjust, or
keep doing what I'm doing now.


the carl czerny of writers (50 lines)

Spoiler! :
sometimes I'm afraid that I'm like
the carl czerny of writers.
don't get me wrong here,
I think he's underrated -
maybe he was a little too focused
on writing bach-esque counterpoint studies,
and all his stuff blurs together
in my mind, but at least
he composed a lot of
sweet little charming pieces,
between the staccatos and jumps
and octaves and runs.
but it had to have been hard
trying to be creative
over the thousand or so pieces
(plenty of which, of course,
having twenty/thirty/fifty sections)
that he composed in his life,
and these days they're mostly known
as training exercises, something you practice
until your fingers are sore
and it hurts to stretch your hand,
something you practice
day after week after month
before you're confident enough
you can apply it to something
you actually wanted to play.

which is to all to say that
I don't know if I'm stopping
to smell the metaphorical roses?
I'm happy spending 10, 15, 30 minutes
to write out a poem, and it's nice
to jump between my projects
(or even redo old ones)
so that I'm never bored
or banging my head against a wall,
but maybe I should be banging my head
against a wall, maybe all this
is too easy for me, everyone else
seems happy writing first drafts
and throwing them out and starting over
for however many years until
they have something they like,
maybe I'm stuck in my comfort zone,
but I don't even know if I have the time
or the patience to go outside of it,
or, frankly, maybe I'd find writing
too annoying, because I'd assume
before I even sit down that
my first or second or tenth or twentieth idea
wouldn't be good enough for me.


make a creek (21 lines)

Spoiler! :
there's water up to my hips
heading down that concrete canal
every other day, and there's cracks
between the slabs - either because
they weren't poured out together,
or the water freezing and melting
broke them apart -
so of course the weeds and reeds
and even sunflowers
saw a chance to punch their way
up through the dirt,
squeeze past the concrete,
grow along the canal walls,
blow in the wind,
soak in the runoff,
shelter crickets,
hide the ducks swimming by
like the plants think
they're on a creek bed,
but clearly, those plants
can make their own creek.


excerpts from observations on the long road to idaho (48 lines)

Spoiler! :
ii. I could wander forever
up and down dead grass hills,
around boulders, through fields
of tiny bushes flowering
yellow and white,
the ground bumpy and jagged
under my shoes,
the air cold and dry
in my lungs,
nothing but the sounds
of cars on distant highways
and the odd chirping bird
or skittering prairie dog,
have the whole world
basically to myself,
and I can scream
as long as I want
without anyone asking me
if I'm okay.

v. the geese peeking out
from brown splintered reeds
and swimming out over
a tiny lake sunk into the ground,
its edges white from
either rocks or salt freed
from their watery prison
by evaporation over the years
this pool's been around, somehow.

ix. the road's 90% trucks by volume,
carrying everything from hobby lobby furniture to explosives,
trains with rusted brown/white compartments
snake around the hills and over the plains,
even the power lines stretch off
far into the distance on either side of us.
everything's here because it's trying to go
somewhere else. when in rome and all that.

xxvi. how the night pounces
like a panther with the stars on its back
glimmering over our heads
as it slashes at the orange sunset,
drives it away, rests on our car
so the mountains turn into outlines
and the road shrinks to the size
of our headlights, crawls between us
and sets itself on our laps
so that we, alone together,
head into the dark.

xxvii. the big dipper points the way we need to go.


I want to be less of a coward (48 lines)

Spoiler! :
I'm almost happy.
my characters feel like
they're starting to peel
off the page/computer screen
and turn into people.
I keep finding new songs
that I'm willing to let play
a few times, have them
roll around in my head,
maybe decide to keep them.
there's jobs out there
that let me do cool research
with metal complexes
or organic molecules
while also paying me
a decent wage
and not making me
give up the rest of my life
to be a face in a crowd
of scientist where only
the award-winners stick out
in everyone's minds.

and yeah, I know that's hubris.
watching my dad
make sweeping generalizations
of thousands of years of history
because he likes the sound of his voice
is painful enough without worrying
if I'm doing the same thing.
there's always more to research
and more to read
and more to listen to
and more to discover
and more places to go to
and more things to do
there's more ways to live
than I could ever imagine,
and honestly I'm surprised
I could do any of that
in the first place
(but that's another conversation).
just, what I know right now,
and where I'm at right now,
it's like something big's around the corner,
that I can almost step out in the world
and be my own person,
instead of hiding behind my parents
for as long as I can get away with it.


worth asking (79 lines)

Spoiler! :
I contradict myself a lot.
like, I've told myself I want to write for
fame and glory, the respect of my peers,
because it's fun, because I want
to simulate a world, because I'm horny,
and some combination of those reasons.
give me enough time (a couple months,
a couple years, something like that),
and I'll give you a different answer.

sometimes I motivate myself
by imagining I'm getting published
in multiple genres, wowing the critics
with my witty prose and emotional poems,
getting to the heart of the human condition
and winning a few awards in the process.
even though I won't put in the effort
to write and revise and edit and get beta readers
and revise and edit and find an agent
and revise and edit and get a publisher
and revise and edit and publish
and then maybe read through some criticism
so I know how to start writing and revising and editing
that next project, and so on.
(though, in all fairness, it's not
everything I feel like I deserve,
but everything I feel like I should work towards,
even though this is all still deeply personal
and it'll lose a lot of meaning when I die,
if it ever meant anything to anyone else
in the first place).

and I'm a bit shallow, yeah.
I'd love to get nothing but praise
for putting in just the amount of effort
I want to put in, and nothing more.
but like, at least I'm being honest with myself
that I'm not getting published anytime soon,
nor would any publisher take most of it
(nor would I want any publisher to).
and if I publish I'll be, like, 30 or 40,
and it'll be a lot more tedious and exhausting
than I'll have wanted it to be, and it'll get more criticism
than I'll have wanted it to get, and maybe my work
will be a drop in the ocean of a genre, at most,
so like, why even keep clinging to the dream?
why does it still matter to me
if it's never going to play out like that?
maybe something I've said up to this point
is wrong, and I'm going to need to do some soul-searching.
maybe it'll take me years to figure it out.

and that's not so bad, actually.
it's fun reading my old writing
(I should do that more often -
it's way too easy for me to say
I only started writing six months ago,
and everything before that
is trash I convinced myself was good,
and I keep finding out how old
so many of my ideas actually are)
and seeing myself coming at the same question
from a bunch of different angles,
re-treading memories and topics
and what it meant to me then
versus what it means to me now,
and we're talking big and complicated stuff:
the meaning of sexuality and gender identity,
how white supremacy rears its ugly head,
the social and cultural dyanmics that help make us,
what it means to exist (if anything),
what I find joy in,
if it matters that I find joy in something
when nothing I do matters in the long run,
that kind of fun stuff.
questions people have lived and died
trying to figure out how to ask, much less answer.
not like I have any hope of doing that myself,
but I don't think any question worth asking
is going to have a simple answer,
and I might as well try to make sense of life
while I'm still alive.


vivid imagination (29 lines)

Spoiler! :
maybe not afraid of the dark, per se -
I'm happy to bike down tree-lined sidewalks
with my cheeks blushing red
and goosebumps rippling across my skin
while I turn on the tiniest little light
and hope there's nothing in the shadows
waiting to dart out, and any cars
on the road will see me dart out -
but afraid of sleeping in the dark.
and turning on a light or two
couldn't help me in any situation
I'd be worried about (I watched
one too many home invasion shows as a kid),
and neither could looking past
the edge of the blinds in case
the stars are disappearing
and the sky's taking on color again,
plus it's ridiculous that I only get nervous
in a mostly empty house
or a double-locked and bolted hotel room,
but not in a college dorm surrounded
on all sides by people
I may or may not know,
and I'd like to grow up eventually,
but I'd rather not have to spend
however many nights I'd need to
curled up on the bed
trying to convince myself that there is,
in fact, nothing hiding in the dark.


boulanger (32 lines)

Spoiler! :
I listened to one of her pieces once.
between the charming rhythms,
the cello and piano making way for each other,
and all the flourishes and drama
of romanticism giving way to modernism,
I liked it. it's a bit of a shame
that she didn't write much more than that.

it'd be shitty of me, a hundred years later,
to look back at her and say "well,
I don't like the way you grieved
your sister's death," because yeah,
trauma is a hell of a thing.
I just wished she'd spent a little time
in between publishing her sister's pieces
and training the next generation of composers
and playing every famous piano piece under the sun
- if she had any spare time, I guess - writing down
a little more, even stray thoughts and ideas,
give us a better picture of her
in all the new musical movements
she'd have let bleed into her work,
what someone so prolific, so talented
would've had bouncing around in her head
over her very long life.

but, obviously, she didn't,
and the reasons are a little beyond me.
personally, I'd be upset if anyone stopped writing
because of me, because that feels like
a whole other voice lost to time and age,
but it was her call to make, and she did.
and it's not like I can do anything
other than be a little sad, so.


not a fan of driving (51 lines)

Spoiler! :
it feels like every day
some part of the interstate gets shut down
because someone got run over
or two cars ran into each other
or two trucks ran into each other
or there was some kind of multi-car pileup
or a truck clipped the bottom of a bridge
and they had to shut down both lanes,
sending thousands of people
heading down smaller highways
or, if they're feeling adventurous,
some single-lane country road,
all together swamping a dozen towns,
and maybe causing a few more accidents
while they're at it.

which is all to say I'm astonished
it doesn't happen more often,
that millions of couple-ton metal deathtraps
move at speeds that would've been unheard of
even two hundred years ago, all hurling down
a labyrinth of roads and signs and signals,
driven by people talking to each other
or looking down at their phones
or smoking cigarettes
or taking bites out of a mcmuffin
and generally doing anything
other than stare at the road ahead of them,
check their mirrors, signal turn,
slow to a stop, speed back up again,
and yet they only close down the major roads
once every few days, at least.
not that it'll stop me
from gripping the wheel
until my knuckles are white,
or feeling like I'm losing control
every time I look away from the road
to change the radio station,
or checking all my mirrors
and leaning forward and twisting around
in case someone's in my blind spot,
and forgetting anything I say
after it comes out of my mouth,
forgetting when to nod
while the other person/people talk/s,
even the minutes
so that they come back to me
when I park the car
and my brain feels like jelly
and my arms are weak
and it takes me a moment
to breathe and collect myself.


fall driving everything away (23 lines)

Spoiler! :
my bike started whistling,
either because of the wind
or because I managed to knock something
out of place launching myself
off a sidewalk or curb
or curving around a corner,
but either way, the way
that it rose and fell, trilled,
wheezed, paused, started up again,
it reminded me of birdsong
(and I kept looking around
to see if there were any robins
or finches or sparrows
hoping between tree branches
or hiding in some leafless bush),
like it was trying to make up for
how quiet it's been lately,
how everything's flown off or run away
while the winds rip the last leaves
from the trees, the clouds
streak and swell grey across the sky,
and I wake up in the mornings
to see frost coating my neighbor's roof.


the easiest AI on that one chess website (30 lines)

Spoiler! :
I'll play against the easiest AI on chess.com
because the games are quick, easy, simple,
and make me feel like I know how to play chess
without having to do the work to understand
any strategy or any positions I should recall.
I'd say I win about 80% of the time,
get into stalemates another 15%,
and fall for very obvious traps
or get outmanuevered the remaining 5% -
it's supposed to be rated at 250,
so I'm around, what, 500 at most?
mostly I think it's hilarious
that someone came up with a program
that loves to blunder pieces
or capture the queen at the expense
of anything else, and maybe
there's a lot of programs out there
that are supposed to be shitty,
and how fucking miserable it'd be
if one of these programs became sentient
and realized its entire existence
is being the butt end of a joke,
that fake bulgarian martin
would find themself at the mercy of
thousands of slightly less shitty chess players
either trying to figure out
how chess works, couldn't find anyone
to play against, or, like me,
bored and looking to feel better
about themselves, even if only for a minute.


the smell of paint thinner (26 lines)

Spoiler! :
yeah, it'd be easier
to leave the leaves on the ground
instead of spending however many hours
raking and shoveling and bagging them;
and it turns out it's better
for bugs and fungi and bacteria
if they have leaves to decay,
pull nutrients from, hide under,
live together in a little dying ecosystem
that comes and goes with the wind;
and I'm pretty sure my neighbors
can stand the crunch of leaves
beneath their feet more
than I can stand the smell
of paint thinner leaking out
from the bin we set out back;
and leaning against the fence
waiting on dad to come back with a bag
I should say something,
maybe change his mind,
but I'm way too scared of the idea
that someone might be upset at me
that it takes me a shitton of work
to even push back against the people around me,
set up boundaries, get some self-respect,
much less ask anything of anyone else.


get out of town (66 lines)

Spoiler! :
it's weird to me
how much of living in a house
is preparing to move out,
whether in painting the walls
gray or some other soft dull color
so the people who come after us
are less likely to hate it
and paint over it themselves,
or making sure anything we put up
and don't carry away with us
is easy enough to peel off,
unscrew, pull down, etc.,
or replacing the kitchen countertops
and recarpeting the stairs
and maybe building a new room or two
in the basement so the house price
keeps going up (or we could even
rent out part of the house
to whoever'd be willing to pay)
or donating or throwing things away
because we don't use them
or like having them around
and we probably won't have enough space
wherever we end up next.

I know mom and dad are thinking about
moving out sometime in the near future,
probably after all the kids
have graduated college and moved out
(you know, hopefully).
or, they're divided -
mom likes the walks along the creek
and the mountains a 10-minute drive away
and the grassy tree-shaded lawn
and the puzzles she puts together
sitting there by the flatscreen TV
and the way she knows how
to clean the place from top to bottom
and how not to burn food
on the oven or the stove
and how to remember the names and faces
of the cashiers she talks to
making weekly trips to get groceries
and that she's never lived longer
in a single place before,
while dad's getting tired
of all the hours spent raking leaves
and mowing the lawn and cleaning gutters
and painting windowsills and repairing cracks
on car windshields or toilet bowls
or shower tiles or between floorboards
and he wants to go somewhere warmer,
somewhere quieter, somewhere
a little less exhausting.

I wish I cared more?
I wish this house meant more to me.
I've lived here for most of my life,
and, even if I'm not happy about most of it,
and even if I've been wanting to move out
for literal years now,
that's not the house's fault,
and I guess what bugs me
is that I don't have any attachments here,
that it's a place I live in
in between other places I live in,
and my family hasn't really tried
to make it anything more than that.


see straight (22 lines)

Spoiler! :
struggling to figure out
if it's the window fogging up
in the cold morning air blowing over it,
my sunglasses crusted over
with greasy fingerprints
because I haven't cleaned it
in a little while,
or my eyes stressed and sore
after all the times I opened them
earlier than I meant to
and panicked myself awake
trying to go back to sleep,
that are the reason
my field of view's blurry
at the edges while I throw the car
around corners and between lanes
and force my foot down on the gas
because it's too easy
for me to freeze up and slow down
and get in the way of everyone
who needs to go somewhere else
more than I need to.


depressed optimistic nihilists (37 lines)

Spoiler! :
this is petty of me,
but I'm getting tired of people
who spend their time uploading memes
about how existence has no meaning
but they can find joy in
eating ice cream with friends or
seeing the stars poke out
in-between the clouds at night or
stuff like that,
with a few baseds and cringes
to distinguish themselves
from those sad lonely nihilists
hiding in their rooms
sitting on their beds
covered in blankets
staring at laptop screens
inches from their face
long after midnight,
and it's not even like I disagree
with optimistic nihilism
or existentialism or what have you,
it just starts to feel like
they're reassuring themselves
they've done life and philosophy Right;
it rings a little hollow
when their worst challenges have been
a bad grade on an exam
or losing touch with a relative
or the idea of death;
and a lot of them are get into fights
on the internet because someone
didn't use a term right,
so, frankly,
they don't seem all that happy to me,
and I'm not sure how much
of the sad lonely nihilists thing
is just projection.


can I get a white christmas at least (21 lines)

Spoiler! :
biking down this one road and I look over
past the gray metal fence and wooden beams
in the shape of a roof casting shadows
over what I expect to be a swimming pool
with sunbathers spread out on white plastic chairs
and kids floating around at the edges,
but I'm surprised to find a blue tarp
stretched across the concrete
even though it snowed a couple days ago
and most the trees have lost their leaves
and I've been telling myself that 39F
is pretty brisk, actually, decent weather
to go biking in with a coat and gloves,
and wow, it might get up to 50 or 55 later this week,
what is this, florida? and I refuse
to let go of summer when the winters here
are so long and cold and cloudy and brown
and even when it snows it melts quickly
and sinks into the ground like everything else
blanching under the light of the pale sun
waiting on march (may at the latest) to come back to life.


nadezhda von meck (33 lines)

Spoiler! :
if I got a billion dollars
somehow, either from a lottery
or the will of some reclusive businessman
or I married into wealth
or I married and helped make
my spouse wealthy,
I'd probably go buy an apartment
in a downtown somewhere
and never leave -
shut the blinds, dim the lights,
pay people to bring me food,
text my way through every
social interaction (no calls, no facetimes),
cover wood floors and white walls
in pages and pages of writing
like de goya decorated his house
with witches' sabbaths and cannibalism.
I'd give most the money away,
fund people's surgeries and art projects
and creative works and medications and therapies,
organization's meetings and protests,
public projects and policy initiatives,
patron however many people
so they have the freedom to do what they want
and an audience willing to listen to them,
make some kind of modern-day renaissance
of everyone inspiring everyone else
and demanding a world that makes room
for discovery, creativity, imagination
in place of money and power
strangling us until we die
so that a few people can live the lives
that everyone wanted to live.


wittgenstein dismissed metaphysics (59 lines)

Spoiler! :
wittgenstein dismissed metaphysics
as vague language propping up
bad ideas, begging the question,
not concerned with what is,
answering the unanswerable;
and he set the stage for generations
of pedants deciding
what philosophy is or isn't
because someone else
freed them from the burden
of figuring it out for themselves.

but I'm one of those weirdos
who likes the confusing and ambiguous.
that you could put me
in front of a jackson pollock
and I'll see shapes in the splashes
of red, yellows, blues reminding me
of the neighbor's house
or weeding dandelions
or proud blue jays sqwaking
from their perches on branches,
munching on peanuts and peanut shells
from the birdfeeder my parents left out
long enough to get tired
of the crows and jays and squirrels
chasing each other around our backyard.
that could you sit me down
in an audiotorium to listen
to some contemporary classical music
and I'll nod my head along
to the polyrhythms and dissonance,
lose my train of thought
in the cluster chords,
swim in a sea of tones
and almost drown because I forgot
to cling onto something.
that you could open up
one of those modernist books
in front of me, and I'll spend days
reading paragraph-long sentences
about protagonists who might exist
doing things that might be happening
and wonder whether or not that matters
because it's in the service
of some point about the passage of time
or how relationships fall apart
or the ways people make themselves
the heroes of their own stories.

maybe something's complicated
because it's insufferable, it's the artist
huffing their own farts
and forgetting they had something to say,
but it's about as insufferable
to ignore anything with nuance,
to decide something has to make sense
before it's worth anyone's time,
to look at the world
and have the audacity to demand
it give you an explanation.
Last edited by TheSilverFox on Mon Nov 28, 2022 2:44 am, edited 21 times in total.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Fri Sep 02, 2022 8:47 pm
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TheSilverFox says...



chapters


this is where the actual novel will go until I exceed the character limit and have to make like five more of these or something


Chapter 1: High Society, Part 1 (1013 words) it sucks but whatever, at least I'm writing

Spoiler! :
Vela Laetanus wondered what would happen if her harp fell on her. It had slipped off her shoulder a couple times – mostly while practicing, thankfully – but either her or her mentor, Cloe, had been quick enough to grab onto the wood frame. As big as it was, it wasn’t exactly heavy. She was more worried about damaging the harp (and embarrassing herself in the process, of course). It had been her Cloe’s harp since her Cloe had started to learn, and, when Vela paid attention to Cloe’s long and rambling stories, Vela got the impression that it had been passing between servants and members of the family for a while before then. Which was obvious in the way that she had to keep replacing the strings, and how the wood scratched against her neck. Still, she liked it. It had history. The family harp, the one she played in public, spent most of its time collecting dust in that private room where she entertained guests. It was more of a symbol than an instrument. At least she didn’t have to worry about breaking this harp, putting it back together, figuring out how it worked, seeing what she could do with it-

“Excuse me, my lady.” Cloe said, sitting next to Vela. The older lioness reached out with stiff fingers, plucking a string with a chipped claw. “You’re playing a little harshly. Try that.”

Vela nodded and plucked the string.

“Softer,” Cloe said, shaking her head.

Another pluck.

Cloe eased back into her seat. “Good,” she said, pulling her arm back. Her orange robes, patterned with black swirls, pooled around her as she tried to adjust the pillow against her back. Satisfied, she rested her hands on her lap. “If you could start from the beginning of that section, my lady.”

Vela nudged the harp a little closer to her neck, took a breath, and started playing. Not that she paid much attention to it. It would’ve been much easier practicing if she wasn’t sitting on the balcony of the family estate, with a sandstone railing (imported at great expense) separating her from the street below. To her left and out the corner of her eye, she could see a broad cobblestone street, with soldiers in padded straw armor hoisting shields and spears as they followed their assigned routes; people hauling carts to the marketplace; workers heading to construction sites; and messengers sprinting through the early-morning crowd. She knew they could hear her. Sometimes she could see them pause by the balcony. Sometimes they’d clap.

How awkward. They could hear every mistake, every technique she didn’t understand. Odds were that most of them didn’t even know she was messing up, because it sounded pretty enough. Of course, that’s why Agrippina had Vela practice in public in the first place. Who wouldn’t want to hear a harp over their head while they wander in-between the walled mansions and public parks and imposing statues of this mostly-built city? But Vela knew she could do better. Vela didn’t want the world to hear her attempts.

“Well, my lady,” Cloe said. She frowned slightly, the wrinkles around her face making it a little worse than it was, and leaned forwards. “I’m glad we didn’t start working on the hard part today. You’re playing quickly, and it sounds a little dry. I had to play this for the lord gods knows how many times – he was a lullaby for him when he was young – so I think I would know uninspired playing.”

“Sorry,” Vela began, but Cloe raised a finger.

“My apologies,” Cloe said. “Talk as my lady should.”

Vela nodded. She didn’t want to be Cloe’s lady, or (almost) anyone’s lady, really. If anything, Vela liked how blunt Cloe was. Everyone else dressed up their words because they either didn’t want to offend Vela, or they didn’t know how to give advice. But Vela was noble, and she needed to act like it if she wanted to stay that way. “My apologies,” said Vela. “I am merely having some difficulty adjusting to this, public setting.”

Tapping her claws on her knee, Cloe said, “I can’t blame you. If it helps, it’s not like anyone’s paying that much attention. If it sounds nice, it probably is. Why – also back when the lord was young, of course – sometimes I would perform by just playing scales. He found that funny, as did his parents. He found a lot of things funny back then. I believe I’ve already told you, but there was the time he used to collect marbles so he could scatter them on the floor before his father’s generals-”

A couple loud knocks from inside. Cloe paused as Vela lifted herself up. “If you could wait a moment,” Vela said, handing over the harp to Cloe while trying not to sound relieved. Vela adjusted the shoulder strap on her pale orange dress as she walked across the balcony, sandals slapping against stone. Quickly slipping her sandals off, she entered her room and made her way to the door, where whoever it was had stopped knocking. Hopefully Floriana had come back with prices for some of the more expensive ingredients. The Laetanus family wasn’t exactly going to pull out all the stops to celebrate one of the lord’s wives getting pregnant, but a couple other families had showed interest in coming.

Smoothening the fur around her shoulder, Vela opened the door. She almost stopped smiling when, instead of seeing her wife, Vela found herself looking down at the short, reedy figure of Agrippina Laetanus. Dressed in an orange shirt that stretched down to her wrists, black pants, and black shoes that clacked against the floor as she tapped her foot, Agrippina beamed in that kind of way she did when she had some “lovely new opportunity” for Vela. “What lovely playing!” Agrippina said, arms behind her back. “I heard you as I was coming back from a charming little social occasion with one of those merchant-kings. We have may ourselves a lovely new opportunity to ingratiate ourselves with her family.”


Chapter 1: High Society, Part 2 (1017 words) I go one day without coffee and I'm miserable

Spoiler! :
“You would like me to do a performance, then?” Vela said. She felt a little self-conscious about her smile, like she was showing too many teeth.

Not that Agrippina noticed (or cared, more likely). “Her daughter showed some interest in your talents,” said Agrippina with a wave of her paw. “She and a few friends were hoping to visit later in the evening. You could prepare some snacks, give them a brief tour, and play a couple songs. Maybe those ones with the, how did you call them, glisses? Such pretty pieces.” Her smile grew a little wider. “Nothing too complicated. I know you have enough on your plate.”

Well, Vela had to plan a baby shower. And perform in front of all the families at the Regulus’ meeting. Oh, and something about a music festival to inaugurate one of the newer parks by the river. Never mind any other shows and performances like these that Agrippina decided to pile on her. Vela ignored the pit that settled in her stomach and bowed her head. “Of course,” she said. “It would be my pleasure.”

“Lovely,” said Agrippina, nodding her head. “If you could start preparing now, I will let you know when they arrive.” Not waiting for a response, the older lioness walked down the hallway, her shoes tapping a steady beat as servants carrying bedsheets and clothes moved out of her way.

Sighing, Vela closed the door behind her. She turned around and paused, looking over her room. Part of her wanted to throw herself into the thick white sheets of the bed, bury herself in the red-embroidered orange pillows and wait for her wife to come back. Part of her wanted to wade her way through the piles of papers and notes scattered around her desk, maybe pick up some incomplete piece that caught her fancy and get to work. Of course, this job was the only reason that she could live in this room at all. But Vela hated how often she wanted to do anything other than perform, entertain, act. If she lost her name, maybe she could go work in one of those theatre groups.

“My lady?” Cloe called from the balcony.

“One moment,” Vela said, shaking her paws as she walked back over to her harp.

******


“And you are sure you heard them deliberating?” Felias Ferox said, marching down a narrow hallway, wearing a purple robe hastily thrown over a worn, browning shirt and pants. The light from narrow windows ran across her face as an attendant, keeping pace just ahead of her, wiped sweat from her cheeks. Felias’s sandals slapped against the stone floor, making her grit her teeth a little more.

“Yes,” came the voice of Felias’s stepsister from behind Felias. “I couldn’t quite make out everything they were saying, but it had something to do with the Regulus and your security detail.”

Of course, it was something trivial. Felias had used to think that, if they couldn’t wait a few minutes for her to arrive, she was dealing with some kind of family crisis, some kind of threat to the city, some outsider challenging her authority. Having spies had told her otherwise. And yes, it was almost certainly some kind of family infighting. “Security detail” meant the captain of her guard and her generals were arguing over the logistics, and Ignatius was probably saying something about optics. But, if they respected her, they could have waited a few minutes before going at each other’s throats.

The hallway expanded as she reached a part of the family compound. The soldiers in front of and behind Felias had enough space that two of them could stand side-by-side, while her attendant could run around her and pull her robes out, adjust the sleeves, try to hide the clothes Felias had been wearing while practicing swordfighting, and so on. Felias hated those robes. Not only were they long and flowy enough that she’d tripped on them at least a few times, they didn’t have anywhere where she could so much as hide a dagger, much less a sword. They could generally hide armor, if she was wearing enough layers, but they generally made her feel exposed. But no, this was a queen’s outfit, apparently. And she was around family, so she had nothing to worry about. Obviously.

A couple turns later, the procession made its way to the meeting room, where a couple guards had been posted. Sure enough, Felias could hear shouting from inside. Ignatius’s “how dare you” voice slipping from underneath the wooden door. “Check the perimeter,” Felias whispered, glancing back at her stepsister. The stepsister, a smaller lioness with pale fur and a rounded face, nodded and slipped between the soldiers. Taking a wooden staff from her attendant (Felias would’ve preferred a spear), Felias gestured for the guards to step aside. When they did, she pushed open the door.

There were three people inside the small room. Ignatius Feroxes, the head of Caelis’s civil administration and the reason that the city wasn’t an architectural turf war between the assorted families, sat in the back. They had just slammed a fist on the table, their graying face twisting into a scowl. A few scars lined their face, with the more impressive ones on their broad shoulders buried under light purple robes, but it still couldn’t compare to the gashes across Naevius Ferox’s face and nose. Naevius, opposite Ignatius, wore the polished set of armor that Felias wished she could be wearing, complete with a purple cape draped over the back of Naevius’s seat. Though not quite as tall or impressive, Naevius had the stance of a career soldier. Back straight, unblinking, looking at Ignatius with a blank expression. And one of the Ferox generals sitting between them, watching the spectacle happen. This general was also older, graying fur exposing the scars around her missing ear. Dressed in shorter, purple robes bound around her waist by a belt, she’d been writing down notes on the piece of paper set in front of her. Felias could read something about troop movements.



Chapter 1: High Society, Part 3 (1036 words) 3-4k words is a pretty okay chapter length

Spoiler! :
The trio turned their heads to look at Felias, their shadows flickering and jumped under the lit braziers surrounding them. Ignatius started to speak, but Felias tapped her staff on the ground. “Am I to understand you chose to start this meeting without your queen?” Felias said, glaring at Ignatius.

“I was merely concerned about your security detail for the upcoming meeting,” Ignatius said, their voice getting softer as they set their paws on the table and held them together. “I made a proposal to Naevius, and I was not satisfied with the answer.”

Walking over to her seat - opposite the general’s – Felias shook her head. “And you would rather not have my opinion?” she said, sitting down. Her attendant stood to her right, while the guards positioned themselves behind her.

“I had presumed that it would be trivial enough,” Ignatius said, adjusting their thin-rimmed glasses. “Apologies, my queen.”

“What is this proposal?” Felias said, looking over at Naevius. As annoyed as she was at Ignatius, it didn’t change the fact that Naevius had answered Ignatius’s question in the first place. She wasn’t going to let Naevius hide in the background.

Naevius sighed. “Ignatius requested that I remove a couple soldiers, on the grounds that it was difficult to see you during the last meeting. I told them that I thought it risky – I did not expect an argument.”

Then he’d clearly never talked to Ignatius before. Felias didn’t know why Naevius expected her to buy that. He’d obviously been trying to provoke Ignatius. At the same time, it was interesting how often Ignatius made suggestions like this. Put her in a more prominent spot. Fewer soldiers. Everyone needed to see their queen. Not like that would make her a target. “That proposal seems unnecessary,” Felias said. “Lift my seat if you need to – no more than a foot or so – but I had no qualms with my guards.”

“Excuse me, my queen,” Ignatius said, leaning forward, “But I find that rather excessive. The other families typically behave themselves in the meeting hall. Beyond a few insults, they respect the peace. Does it not come across as weakness or fear if you should have to hide yourself?”

“I am not hiding myself, considering where I sit,” Felias said. Adjusting her robes, she straightened herself. “If the other families are not looking at the central stage, they are looking at me. Furthermore, ‘insults’ appears to be something of an understatement, which I was hoping to discuss.” Felias gestured to her general.

Nodding, the general set a few papers down on the table. “Our network has found increased activity among Maris family soldiers in the city,” she said, looking around at the rest of the group. The general had a bit of a growl to her voice, which reminded Felias of the scar across the general’s neck, almost hidden under the general’s robes. “Largely concentrated around their estate, but with extra security around the stores under their patronage. Particularly those neighboring an Imbrius-owned park.”

Ignatius looked over the papers, brow furrowing. “Some kind of show of force?” they said after a minute. “Or a possible attack?”

“It is hard to confirm,” the general said. She crossed her arms as she stared down at the papers. “I have heard rumors of smoke coming from the Maris estate a few evenings ago, but not so much as a word from either family. At the very least, they appear to be on worse terms with each other than usual. There was that incident in the markets only a week ago.”

“And the Thalassina family?” said Felias. It was also possible that it was some kind of Maris in-fighting, but those three families were miserable enough without thinking about the skeletons in their closets.

The general shook her head. “Despite your request, I could not see anything out of the ordinary. This conflict does not appear to concern them. Yet, anyhow.”

“Is this some attempt to persuade us to entertain their ridiculous proposal?” said Ignatius, leaning back. “Instigate a couple fights, trade threats, and then come crawling to us to beg that we address their own problems. How pleasant.”

“Or they have little interest in diplomacy,” Felias said.

Ignatius stroked the fur on their chin, taking a minute before responding. “Well, I must say that it has been entirely too long since we have had anything in the way of a large-scale conflict. I had hoped that the other families could occupy themselves with their mansions and internal rivalries, but I suppose that could not have lasted forever. All the same, it would blemish Caelis’ reputation if the Maris and Imbrius families chose to fight within the city limits.”

“What would that mean for the meeting, though?” Naevius said. “With their lords being in the same room, should we expect a fight?”

“Possibly,” said Felias. “I find it hard to believe that they would choose violence in a public place, never mind all the other families and their guards being present, but we cannot rule that situation out. If they decide not to make their proposal, that would definitely be a cause for alarm. I was contemplating relocating some more of our soldiers to the meeting hall, and possibly to the streets near their estates.”

Already lost in their own train of thought, Ignatius was in the middle of a hushed conversation with the general. They nodded to acknowledge Felias, but the two kept on going. Felias caught bits and pieces about where to relocate citizens, evacuation plans, and the amount of soldiers they’d need to secure certain places. All technical stuff. It was the kind of conversation Felias wished she could have. Well, the military part, at least. She knew where her soldiers were stationed, the contracts the family had made, so on. But it was her generals that called most of the shots – she wasn’t experienced enough to call the shots. Ignatius could manage the civil stuff. They’d seen Caelis rise up from the ground, and they’d spent years wrangling it into what it was now. Good for them, because Felias found the city itself profoundly boring. She wanted to be a warrior queen, like her mother before her.


Chapter 1: High Society, Part 4 (505 words) amogus

Spoiler! :
Felias felt a tap on her shoulder and flinched. She looked over as Naevius scooted his chair closer to her. “Excuse me, my queen,” he whispered, glancing at the other two to make sure they were still busy, “I know you have heard quite enough of this, but I am still concerned with the lack of protection that your spouses and child have.”

Of course he’d take the opportunity to bring that up. Not like he had much else to talk about. “Their location should be security enough,” Felias said.

“Under normal circumstances, maybe,” said Naevius, furrowing his brow. “But, if we should have to worry about some inter-family conflict, I would rather you not be caught in the crossfire.”

Shaking her head, Felias said, “Our grandparent legitimized their ancestors as royalty. I can hardly imagine they would move against me.”

“If they are willing to fight over their inheritance, any of them would love your support. Coercing you is an option.”

“They are in one of the most securely defended fortresses in a thousand miles, Naevius. While I appreciate your services, you are hardly the only one concerned with my partners’ well-being or the integrity of the family. Our generals would rather die than subject us to such an embarrassment.”

Naevius set a paw on the table. “How about we see how this meeting goes, and then decide what level of security would be appropriate.”

“I would accept that,” said Felias. With that, Naevius scooted away, turning to look at Ignatius and the general, who were busy arguing over the number of people who could fit in the meeting hall. She did the same, though she could catch Naevius looking at her out of the corner of his eye a couple times. Subtle. It wasn’t even like she disagreed with him. The other families were hard enough to control when they weren’t at each other’s throats. The Ferox family, as royalty and the most powerful family in the city, was always going to be a threat. She and her loved ones needed security – she just wasn’t sure if she could trust him.

She didn’t trust anyone in this room. They’d all been around much longer than her, and they’d all gotten comfortable in their positions. Felias’s mother, Petronia, had butted heads with them on more than few occasions. Then Petronia had fallen sick a couple years ago; vomited blood, struggled to hold herself up, could barely talk or move by the end. And here Felias was, a young and inexperienced queen. She could fight, and she could lead parades, and she could recieve guests at the family palace, but she wasn’t close to understanding how her family operated. Nor was she sure if that was on purpose. It was all too convenient.

Felias wasn’t sure what had killed her mother, or if anyone was to blame for it. But, out of everyone who might’ve done it, the people in this room were high up on the list. How was she supposed to trust them?


Chapter 2: Low Society, Part 1 (527 words) haha get it

Spoiler! :
“Break!”

The dozen or so workers paused, setting down their bricks they were holding or putting adhesive aside. A couple of them took the opportunity to sit down, while others stood around stretching or trying to wipe sweat from their foreheads, and others started to shuffle their way over to the to the makeshift hall that had been set up in the middle of the construction area. Luciana could already something cooking. Something fried.

Walking around the half-complete wall, Luciana pretended to look for anything out of place. The wall didn’t look like it was leaning. She couldn’t see any bricks jutting out. Some architect would probably come along and tell her group that they had it all wrong, that it was supposed to be three feet to the right or something, but that wasn’t her problem. Or, it shouldn’t be her problem. She was a solider, not some lousy manager.

Luciana sat down in the shade, drawing her legs up to her chest. At least the construction workers only had to wear shorts (albeit bleached under the sun and a little tattered), while she had to prance around in a suit of padded straw armor in the middle of summer. Oh, and the metal helmet, because that made sense. Feeling the fur along her leg with a paw, Luciana winced. It was hot to the touch. That’d definitely hurt. She was getting tired of heading back to her barracks feeling like she was on fire.

Setting her head against the wall (carefully, in case some of the adhesive hadn’t dried yet), Luciana sighed. She still had a few more weeks of this to go, as far as she was aware. Assuming that the Aescanus family didn’t want to send her off on some other project. What was she even doing here? She was supposed to be on campaign, throwing herself into the thick of battle and hacking at anyone who got in her way. She was supposed to be out on the border, standing guard with her other soldiers in the name of her family. Maybe even get some kind of contract and find herself whisked to some far off place where the summers weren’t so hot, the people wanted her to be there, and there was money on the line.

But, of course, she wasn’t good enough. That’s why she was here. The family’s resources were stretched a little too thin between Caelis and their land, and they weren’t about to send someone important to stand out in the sun and make sure these new barracks got built. Every moment that Luciana spent here felt like a waste of time. She knew the other Aescanus soldiers, even the ones who stood guard around the construction, were mocking her behind her back or around the corner or wherever they were at. They were doing their jobs, at least. And sure, her commander had tried to explain things to her. She was too reckless, got carried away, acted before she thought. This was a chance for her to settle down, learn some humility, even be a bit of a leader. Luciana didn’t believe that for a second.


Chapter 2: Low Society, Part 2 (1,009 words) I think I'm so clever

Spoiler! :
Boots crunching against the dirt. Luciana tilted her head to see her co-manager – dressed in the same armor, smiling in spite of the haze around her – striding over. Great. Luciana hadn’t figured out what was wrong with her co-manager, beyond the other lioness being boring and clueless enough to not hate her job, her workers, or her life. Maybe it was all some kind of ploy to get back to being a soldier, like recruiting some prisoner into the army for good behavior. Or maybe that co-manager was one of those weirdos who didn’t, in fact, love the glory of battle, and had done badly enough to get reassigned here. Or maybe the co-manager was just incompetent and didn’t recognize it. Either way, Luciana wished that co-manager would leave her alone. The last thing Luciana wanted here was friends. If she had her way, she wouldn’t be taking to any of these people ever again after a few weeks.

“Something up?” the co-manager said, crouching down in front of Luciana. The co-manager smirked and held out a paw. “You’re not dying on me, are you?”

“Give me a second,” Luciana said, waving off the paw. “I just need a break.”

“Oh, because it’s so hard standing around shouting orders at people who are doing all the work,” the co-manager said.

Luciana couldn’t tell if the co-manager didn’t like her and was looking for a chance to say it, or did like Luciana, but only showed it through sarcasm. Not that Luciana liked either possibility. “It’s the middle of summer,” Luciana said, “And they’re having us wear these fucking things.” She gestured down to her armor.

The co-managed waved it off. “Just give it a week or two.”

“Pretty sure a ceiling’s not going to cool things down.”

“You could’ve taken one of those night shifts, you know.”

“I like to sleep at night, actually. And if they’re so good, why didn’t you do that yourself?”

“Oh, nah, I’m used to this. I worked at a bakery for a while, so, you know, better than the ovens.”

“Good for you.”

The co-manager extended her paw again. “Come on,” she said. “I know it feels like you’re in some terrible prison of your own making, but that’s only, like, 80% true. We’ll get the job done, and they’ll move us around until they give us better jobs. Or they finish everything they want to build, in which case, hey, we’ll still get to be soldiers again. Or something soldier-adjacent. Soldier-y.”

Setting her arms on the ground, Luciana said, “Unless they decide to fire us.”

“Yeah, like that’ll happen,” the co-manager said, rolling her eyes. “They’ve got the money, and they need every soldier they can get. Cutting us off because we didn’t yell at strangers the right way is a bit much.”

“It’s still just the two of us,” said Luciana. “And at least one of us doesn’t deserve to be here, so I don’t know if I trust them.”

The co-manager laughed. Luciana blinked, taking a couple seconds to figure out what was so funny. Long enough for the co-manager to answer that question. “Gods, you’re so pissy. It’s always something with you. This job sucks, or the workers suck, or I suck, or the sun sucks, or the family sucks, whatever. Everything sucks. Like, I get it, don’t get me wrong. But you could definitely have it worse. Seriously, come on, they’ve got fried bread, I’m hungry.”

Cheeks blazing, Luciana pulled herself up. “Maybe I don’t want to eat,” she said, brushing the dust off of her pants.

“Yes, you do,” said the co-manager, also getting up. “But hey, if you don’t, you don’t. That just means more for me. See you around, Luciana.” With a smile and wave, the co-manager walked over to the mess hall, where a crowd had already formed under the shade of the canopy (with a bit of shoving and crowding involved).

Luciana stood there for a few seconds. She didn’t deserve this. She didn’t deserve any of this. Getting fun of was the icing on the cake, in the grand scheme of things, but it only made everything else stand out more. And who did the co-manager think she was? Yeah, things could be worse. Luciana wasn’t spending her whole day hauling bricks all over the place for the sake of some family that’d throw all those workers aside when the construction was done. But those workers could probably be servants or soldiers or whatever. Things could be worse, but they could be better. So much better. Luciana had dreams, aspirations, life goals. She was going to live out her retirement on a cushy pension, a family that’d honor her for her service, and maybe a few scars. Those were the rage and all.

At the same time, she could feel her stomach grumbling, and maybe it’d be a bad idea spending the afternoon hungry. Luciana usually felt faint if she didn’t eat for a while. Of course, Luciana wasn’t about to sit next to that co-manager. So Luciana walked over to the mess hall, keeping an eye out for the person she wanted to sit as far away from as possible, and hoping that the workers hadn’t left her with crumbs.

******

As Avita stood at the edge of the barge, watching it sail gently down the wide river, she was glad she wasn’t one of those weirdos who liked the glory of battle or something. Not like she didn’t have to fight. If her boat was far enough in the mountains, the pirates make take an opportunity to swim from the shore, shoot cannons down from the heights to scare the sailors into stopping, or block the way ahead. But the pirates were fast, slippery, and more interested in stealing goods than they were in taking lives. It was embarrassing, but as long as she at least made an attempt, she usually wouldn’t get her pay docked. She was just some grunt – it wasn’t like she had any responsibility on her shoulders.


Chapter 2: Low Society, Part 3 (1,024 words) hopefully this is like romantic or something

Spoiler! :
Avita considered herself especially lucky. Yeah, she wasn’t all that great at wrestling or swordfighting or defensive tactics, i.e., what she’d been raised to do after her parents gave her to the Thalassina family. Maybe she’d been sent off to a merchant-king because it wasn’t like he was going to notice a few sub-par soldiers. She was more or less a body, someone there to fulfill the terms of a (fairly profitable) contract while keeping the merchant-kings from picking fights with each other. But her fellow soldiers were off fighting, whether other families, neighboring kingdoms, or even some of the far-off ones. At least she could actually visit her parents and see the countryside she called home. And, of course, have herself a few partners she wasn’t worried about losing.

It was especially peaceful that night, with the barge slowly swaying side from side as it passed over the water. When she looked up, she could see the moons – the largest pale and white, and two other brown-white ones on either side of it – soaring their way through the stars and trails of what looked like dust and whatever else was up there. When she looked around, she could see the outlines of reeds and flowers popping up on the edge of the river, with lumps of rocks or dirt that she figured might be the houses of otter families. The sweet, slightly bitter scent of ripened fruit wafted in from the trees in the distance, almost burying the smell of growing hay and wheat in the fields that surrounded said trees. Clusters of houses poked out of the horizon, some visible by their roofs and others visible by the lights that were slowly being snuffed out. When she looked ahead, she could see the river winding in its meandering course. Avita almost swore that she could catch a glimpse of the ocean at the edge of her vision, and maybe some of the towers in Caelis.

Which was all to say that this was the best part of Avita’s job. She could spend forever at her post, a pebble in the huge and ever-changing world around her. And sometimes someone had to tap her on the shoulder a few times in the morning before she remembered that yes, her shift was over. Part of her wished she could’ve been a poet, a bard, a storyteller. Not that she had the talent or the freedom to do that, but it was a little frustrating that she couldn’t put what she felt to words. It made her feel insignificant, but not in a bad way. Almost in a comforting way, like at least she was here, now. A feeling that only got stronger, and a little more defined, when she heard some familiar bootsteps behind her.

“What are you doing up so late?” Avita said, turning around and smiling as her girlfriend walked over. The girlfriend, a river otter who only went up to about Avita’s chest (and Avita would carry her around sometimes), smiled back. Dressed in a gray shirt and dark gray pants, the girlfriend walked slowly, her arms limp at her sides. Avita’s smile faltered a little, and she continued, “You really should be sleeping.”

“I thought I’d drop by,” the girlfriend said, whiskers drooping and face sagging, but with a warmth in her eyes that shone through regardless. “And they’re running us a little ragged, but we’ll be at the city in a day or two.” Even her voice – friendly, forward, honest - sounded scratchy at the edges.

Avita sighed. “Still,” she said, before speaking more quickly, “And not to say I’m not glad you’re here, because I am, but we’ll have plenty of time to spend together in Caelis. Even if that’s, uh, not going to be a while.”

“But I don’t think I’ll get many chances to catch you like this,” the girlfriend said, taking a step forward while looking Avita up and down. “You look so beautiful with the moons over your head. You like a warrior, keeping me safe.”

Smiling awkwardly, Avita lifted her spear and, with a flourish, held it behind her back. “In these old things?” Avita said, shaking the armor and showing off a few holes and tears in the padding. Nevermind the rust at the edges of the spear and the helmet that fit around her face.

“Always,” the girlfriend said. “Because you’re the one wearing them.”

“I’m not much of a soldier.”

“But you’d be one for me.”

“Awww.”

The girlfriend paused. She’d already glanced a couple times at the helmet. “Are you having problems with your mane again?”

Looking away, Avita shrugged. She really didn’t want to have this conversation, but, unfortunately, she was cursed with partners who were (at all, admittedly) observant. “Yeah, I’m not happy with it, but I figured I could just leave it alone for a bit.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I came up here,” the girlfriend said, reaching into a pocket and pulling out a knife. She gestured for Avita to come closer. “Come on, sit down.”

“You really need to go to sleep,” Avita said, the words already quiet as they started to come out of her mouth, then fading away by the end.

With a shake of her head, the girlfriend sat down. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said, tapping a spot in front of her. “And if you’re not happy, then I’m going to have a hard time sleeping. So, how about you sit down?”

Laying her staff down on the ground, Avita then turned around and sat with her back to her girlfriend. As she pulled her helmet off and put it next to the staff, Avita tried not to think about the way her mane clung to her head, how full it felt, how thick and dark and healthy and very not-her it felt. She almost sagged in relief as her girlfriend grabbed a chunk of mane and started cutting it, yellow-brown strands of fur falling onto the barge.

“If you could look at your helmet and tell me what height works,” the girlfriend said, “that’d be nice.”


Chapter 2: Low Society, Part 4 (842 words) barge girlfriends

Spoiler! :
“Okay,” said Avita, picking up the helmet and staring at her reflection. She didn’t know who was looking back. Part of her was glad that her mane wrapped around her, casting a shadow across her cheeks and nose. Avita didn’t hate the way she looked, per se. Okay, maybe her face looked a little too round. Maybe she would’ve liked more angular cheekbones, a nose and mouth that protruded out a little more. Sometimes people called her blue eyes “piercing,” which she wasn’t happy about. She wanted to look soft, friendly, warm, approachable. Or, as much as she could while she had the muscles that she did (which she was proud of, even if she wished she didn’t have so many of them, or that her arms weren’t so thick). But she already had kind of a friendly face, didn’t she? Even some of her partners would tell her that sometimes. It just, felt out of place, like it was a couple seconds from growing and stretching and wrinkling into the one she wanted to have. Better yet, if she sat there long enough, her face would make sense to her. She’d be happy with it, and she could shove it to the back of her mind and not think about it. Why couldn’t she? It wasn’t like she had to look at it much in the first-

The reflection of Avita’s girlfriend, over Avita’s shoulder, stared into Avita’s eyes. It took Avita a couple seconds to realize that her girlfriend had said anything at all. “Sorry?” Avita said, smiling sheepishly, eyes darting away to admire one of the wooden logs that made up the barge.

“Is this good?” the girlfriend said, gesturing to a section of Avita’s mane that she’d cut a few inches off of.

Staring up at that section, Avita took a few seconds before nodding. “If you could do the same for the top of my mane, yeah,” Avita said.

The girlfriend nodded. “I’ll try to blend it in with the rest,” she said. “Want me to touch anything else up?”

“Nah, the rest is fine,” Avita said.

“In summer?” the girlfriend said, already getting back to cutting Avita’s mane.

“It’s not that uncomfortable,” said Avita. She felt her arms and legs unclenching slightly in the wake of the rhythmic snipping sound. “Night shift and all. Plus, it’s not like it’s going away anytime soon, so maybe I should get used to it?” Avita laughed, a quiet one that died as quickly as started.

The girlfriend paused briefly, holding her scissors in the air, but went back to cutting. “Seriously, let me know if you want to cut any of it off,” the girlfriend said. “It wouldn’t take that long. And you don’t need to get used to this? I’m more than happy to keep doing this.” A pause, then, “And don’t tell me you’re a burden or whatever. I don’t believe that, and you should stop believing it.”

Avita had opened her mouth, but sighed and closed it. She was a burden, wasn’t she? Her partners had to deal with her fussing about her mane or the way she walked or the clothes she wore or her voice, and for what? She wasn’t any less of a woman, any less herself. Everyone had accepted her immediately. Maybe a couple people slipping up on her name or pronouns, but they apologized and corrected themselves. Still, she wasn’t happy. Yes, a woman - and she’d run into plenty of women who had bodies like hers – but Avita wasn’t the woman she wanted to be. Nor did she know what she could do about that. There were a few treatments out there, but they were either expensive, gross, or both. And, if others could find femininity in themselves, not want to do anything with their bodies, why was that so hard for her?

Staring out over the waters of the river Fusca, the moonlight shattering against the murky surface, Avita knew that it wasn’t fair of her to think like that. She was lucky to have partners who cared about her, wanted her to love herself, gave her the room and space she needed to figure herself out. That didn’t make this whole identity thing any less of a pain in the ass, but she didn’t feel like she was alone, at least. They had to put up with her, but she could make up for that when they got to Caelis. Visit family, watch some games, maybe see a parade or two. That city was an overwhelming wall of banners, spears, brick, marble, fireworks, lyrists, and it only got bigger and grander every time she came back to see it. She could tolerate it for a couple days, but she couldn’t imagine living there. Avita would never give up the sound of waves lapping against the barge, the trees by the shore dangling their leaves over her head, the jagged mountains fading behind her and the endless ocean in front of her. Nor could she imagine why anyone would.


Chapter 3: Hiding the Night, Part 1 (192 words) won't lie I don't know as much about music theory as I probably should

Spoiler! :
As Vela – dressed in a long, thin, white gown, sitting on a wooden chair with detailed carvings – reached the climax of the piece, she regretted that the harp’s strings were a little too taut. It looked pretty (even if it probably didn’t do wonders for the health of the instrument), but the notes didn’t reverberate as much as she would’ve liked them to. Her playing was too sharp, exact, a tad emotionless. Not that she showed anything on her face, other than the smallest frown. Keeping a close eye on her claws, she plucked her way through the diminuendo and to the end of the piece.

Her audience – a few otters, some kneeling and some sitting cross-legged on orange pillows – waited a couple seconds for the last notes to fade out. The merchant-king’s daughter was the first to clap. Dressed in a light blue shirt and blue pants (some fashion trend that had come from a faroff kingdom, Vela had been told), the princess looked out of place among the oranges and reds of the carpets and drapes, the yellows of oil lamps glowing where they hung on the walls around them.


Chapter 3: Hiding the Night, Part 2 (1,017 words) I actually had fun writing this? weird, I know

Spoiler! :
The others were dressed similarly, but the fabric looked coarser and thicker. And, them being servants, none of them wore the bracelets around the princess’s wrists, or the chain necklace that held a blue sapphire encrusted in metal over her shirt.

As her servants started to clap, the princess pulled herself up. “Wonderful!” she said, beaming at Vela. “What honor, hearing you perform.” The small pauses and slip-ups in the princess’s voice betrayed that she wasn’t fluent, but it didn’t make her look any less graceful. The way she held herself, the warmth of her smile, the way the folds of her clothes settled down to hide her claws and her sandals, all caught Vela’s attention. The princess wasn’t trying to make herself look dignified; she was dignified. And Vela could see why Agrippina, and a few others in the family court, were getting so fond of that kind of outfit. It looked a lot easier to walk in than a gown or a robe, and the wrinkles looked like they were supposed to be there.

But Vela realized she’d been staring for a little too long. She handed the harp to Cloe (who’d been sitting behind it the entire time, nodding her head occasionally) before standing up and bowing to the princess. “I hope it was what you were promised,” Vela said, trying to throw in a little false humility into her voice. She was proud of herself, but it wouldn’t do her any favors to show it.

“And more,” said the princess, signaling for her servants to stop clapping. “I heard you once, before. At the Yard. Was too crowded to hear much, but I enjoyed it. Do you only play harp?”

Vela nodded. “I do,” she said. She walked down the steps that separated the white platform she’d been standing on from the floor. Stopping in front of the princess, Vela folded her arms together and bent her head enough to stare at the floor, trying to show respect to the much shorter princess without coming across as condescending. “I have been meaning to broaden my horizons, so to speak, but the harp already takes so much of my time.”

“Understandable,” the princess said, holding out a paw. A sign of friendliness among the otters; Vela took the princess’s paw. Soft, the webbing almost slimy, but with long, smooth, white claws. “I have, the same situation with my violin. I wondered if you could, write something for me? Or if you could try violin.”

Heart skipping a beat, Vela had to hold her excitement back. The last thing she wanted to do was scare the princess or come across as anything other than professional. Vela was representing her family, after all. “That, would be lovely,” Vela said, turning her head up to look at the otter, who was at about chest height. “I would love to see what I could do, at least.”

“Great!” the princess said, looking up at Vela. “I will see that my tutor visits, and perhaps work out a commission.” A wave of the princess’s free paw. “Not tonight, of course. Too late. I would like to tour this place. If you can show me around.”

Which was how Vela found herself walking around the foyer, leading the princess along as the princess’s servants trailed behind them. Playing had taken all of her focus, but now she almost found herself spacing out as she made her way through her script. Some statue of a triumphant, naked, spear-wielding lion that had been commissioned by a distant ancestor. Paintings of relatives sitting in their robes by some garden or on top of a wall or in the throne room. Orange and yellow curtains that had been imported at great expense from traders the west. A stone effigy of the family’s patron deity, the goddess of joy, on a little altar jutting out from the brick inner wall. Not nearly as impressive as what was in the family’s traditional mansion, but that was a couple days away, and there’d been concerns about damaging some of the art, and what a shame, and all that.

The princess took it all in, nodding at this or that and asking the occasional question about the artist or who it was dedicated to. Ooing and awing at the few-hundred-year old tapestries. Making the offhand comment about how her father had something like the gilded faux flowers in the vase on the table towards one corner of the foyer. Vela almost didn’t notice when the princess asked a question about the door opposite to the front entrance.

“Oh, those are private quarters,” Vela said almost too quickly, looking over at the guards standing on either side of the door. They kept on staring ahead. “The lord should be sleeping for the night, and I would rather we not intrude.” Guess she couldn’t be too surprised that the princess was curious to ask. Vela even had a better excuse than normal this time.

“Yes,” the princess said with a nod. “And it is getting late. I must say, though, I like this house is unique. My father went to the Vixis house, and their foyer surrounded the throne room. This is more, convenient.”

Well, at least someone appreciated the layout. “I find it rather charming. And a bit easier to organize, yes,” Vela said. And then the two of them said their goodbyes, with the princess showering Vela with compliments and Vela humbly accepting all of them. The princess would talk to her tutor and send some messages to the Laetanus family to arrange a meeting. Then the group of otters, surrounded by lion guards, made their way out the front doors. Vela held a door open and watched them walk down the brick steps and follow the cobblestone path to iron-bar gates surrounded by a sandstone wall. The guards lifted the gates to let the otters pass, then dropped them when the otters had made their way onto the streets. Other soldiers, in the Vixis turquoise uniforms, led the princess and her servants away. And that was that.


Chapter 3: Hiding the Night, Part 3 (1,033 words) dorks

Spoiler! :
Then Vela could slump her shoulders and let out a breath. Closing the front doors behind her, Vela felt the day weigh down on her as she turned around. She’d used to think that she’d get used to this job. That all the planning, preparing, performing would turn into an easy routine that’d keep her and her family afloat. Vela had underestimated how much more she’d have to do over time. All the new people she’d have to entertain; all the events that the family would want to put on; even the ways the family would expand and make more contracts with more people. No wonder Cloe (who Vela was now wishing good night) had a bit of a hunch and spent much of her time at the family baths. Would that happen to Vela too? Cloe had spent her time washing clothes and carrying linens around and making beds and dressing the last couple family heads, their relatives, and even a few of the other servants. Still, as different as their jobs were, Vela was afraid that she’d burn out or fall apart before she could retire. Maybe she’d be too old and tired to make music anymore. The idea left a pit in her stomach.

But, for the moment, Vela was free. She walked over to the other door, gesturing for the guards to stand aside. When they did, she opened the door and embraced the smell of the ocean as she headed out onto the narrow cobblestone pathway that ran around the estate’s inner wall. In front of her, the cobblestone gave way to granite tiles surrounded by what was the beginnings of a garden. Which meant weeds struggling to find any light under the white tarps, held up by poles, that stretched over and ahead of her, rippling in a gentle breeze. It being night, the tarp roof plunged the inside of the estate into darkness, such that Vela could barely see more than a few feet in front of her. Not that there was much to see, other than the rectangular outline of the (unfinished) palace room’s walls coming into view as Vela made her way up the wood staircase with iron railings that separated the foyer from the bedrooms.

Vela paused at the top of the staircase. The foyer had been a little too hot and stuffy, between the torches, her performing, and the people inside. Now she could let everything wash over her, feel a bit of a chill run up the fur on her arms. Between the stars coating the sky over her head; the outlines of other palaces and estates (with shops and open markets between them) lighting up under the moon; and Caelis giving way to the sweeping plains, little villages, and the barges sailing lazily down the Fusca, Vela could hear a couple notes in her head. Something soft, gentle, rolling. She’d have to write it down.

Her heart picked up a little as she opened the door and made her way down the hallway. Passing the guards and servants as they made their way between rooms, Vela only had one person in mind as she beelined for the final door on the right. And, sure enough, Vela found her wife sitting at the edge of the bed, papers in one paw as the other rested on the sheets. Floriana – long, slender, all the dignity of a servant in her posture and all the joy of a partner in her warm smile – almost blended into the bedsheets with her long orange dress and yellow fur. Her shadow, cast by the single lamp in the room (set next to the bed), stretched almost to the ceiling, flickering and waving in the light like an invitation to come closer. Vela’s friend, companion, co-worker, muse. The reason that the idea of growing old didn’t sound so scary to Vela anymore. And the reason Vela forgot the song she’d started to compose in her head.

“Long day?” Floriana said, looking over at Vela. Anyone could’ve guessed, given the way Vela slumped when she closed the door behind her, or how Vela’s face drooped as she returned Floriana’s smile.

“Mhm,” Vela said. She yawned right after, as if to prove the point. Heading over to the bed, Vela took the opportunity to flop down on the sheets beside Floriana, sinking into the soft mattress.

Setting a paw on Vela’s calf (which made Vela feel a little weightless), Floriana said, “Well, if it’s not too much of a problem, do you think you could look over some of these orders?”

Not exactly romantic, or appreciated, but Vela would take what she could get. “Give me a minute,” Vela said, flipping onto her side and patting the blankets behind Floriana.

“Of course,” Floriana said, a slight amount of sarcasm in her voice. Still, she set the papers aside and leaned back, laying down on the bedsheets. Turning her head, she and Vela locked eyes. In their room, with the door closed and the blinds shuttered, they could forget about the world for a second. No responsibilities, no obligations, no demands. And Floriana looked tired too, from the way she stretched out to the way she had to keep her eyes from closing. No artist could capture how beautiful Floriana looked in that moment, reclined on the bed, so at ease and relaxed and completely trusting of Vela. But Floriana couldn’t appreciate it, could she? Maybe Vela could pick up a brush. It’d take time, and she didn’t exactly have a lot of that, but maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to pick up another-

“Uh, sorry,” Floriana said, shaking Vela’s shoulder gently, “But we really do need to look at these orders. I promise it won’t take long. And if we could get that makeup off of you and get you into something more comfortable, that’d be great.”

“Yeah, my bad,” Vela said as she pulled herself back up. Floriana did the same, grabbing the papers and setting them between the two. The names and costs blurred together in Vela’s head, as did the ways she nodded or shook her head or suggested other people.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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Mon Nov 14, 2022 4:04 am
TheSilverFox says...



chapters 2: chapter harder


Chapter 3: Hiding the Night, Part 4 (1,079 words) definitely not improvising important concepts in the hopes I can make it into a story

Spoiler! :
It was boring. They had the same few suppliers and vendors for most of their events, particularly for an event as small and intimate as this one. The ones employed by the family didn’t have any choice, though the lord did want to buy a couple imported ingredients. And that meant trying to strike a balance between rewarding the seller’s loyalties versus getting a good deal. Of course the families would fight over something as trivial as chocolate. They fought over everything. It was why they existed.

Floriana was nothing if not practical about the whole situation. That was one of Vela’s most and least favorite things about her. On one hand, yes, Vela could sometimes stick her head in the clouds, forget what she needed to do or decide she didn’t care about it. It was nice to have someone to pull her down and keep her from, say, going a couple nights without sleeping to finish some new piece of music. Right now, it was soothing hearing Floriana’s soft voice as she effortlessly wrote out times and costs in that elegant handwriting of hers. Still, Floriana wasn’t exactly a romantic; not a spontaneous one, at least. More the type to plan out where in the mansion to meet and when, get the kitchen staff working on some simple dish (she didn’t want to burden them), light the candles, maybe break out the flowers, set the dish on a table, and wait for Vela. Not that Vela minded, per se, but she liked the passion of the moment. The beauty of the little things.

All the same, Vela couldn’t complain about how lucky she’d been to marry someone as devoted and patient at her wife, so she found herself leaning against Floriana as they planned out what Vela would be performing in a couple days.

******


Felias’ eyes fogged over as she flipped the page and saw another wall of text. Setting the book down and leaning back into her seat, she stared up at the tall roof of the library. The frescos of soldiers marching to war, crowning kings and queens, spearing dragons, taunted her when she could make them out through the torchlight that flickered dimly on the walls.

She hated that she’d been roped into this. Her, the queen, reduced to sitting like some scholar at the table, pouring over books and books of civil law. Felias couldn’t take any of this seriously; there wasn’t any kind of tradition or history in these walls. Most of the books that towered up around her were imported guides and manuals, copies of family biographies and the blood-keeper’s records. It was supposed to be a sign of cooperation between the assorted families, pooling their knowledge together and having access to anything that they couldn’t exploit. So nothing important was kept here. Nevermind those large glass windows that left her feeling exposed, the moons climbing in the sky like eyes watching her. She had guards posted at the doors, between the shelves, even out by the Yard, a large grassy field that stretched off to her left and disappeared behind the wall. It was unlikely anyone would be able to make out, or particularly care about, a single hooded figure among the blood-keeper librarians and guards. But it still didn’t feel like enough.

Partly thanks to her brother, Petronius, also dressed in a blue robe and hood and currently occupied with some of the most boring writing known to lions. Felias looked over at him, but couldn’t make out much more than his snout shrinking as he sniffed, as well as the dark mane that pooled out from around his hoodie. She didn’t entirely know what to make of him. He’d been named after his mother, and he did have a bit of her personality. Firm, stubborn, blunt. Under other circumstances, he’d make a great advisor – he wasn’t afraid to say his mind or put on airs like her commanders or other relatives. Unfortunately, he’d also been under Ignatius’s wing for the last several years. It had changed him in a few obvious ways; he wasn’t the kid who threw mud at her or picked up swears from the servants anymore. Other than that, she wasn’t sure if he was compromised. Maybe Ignatius was using him to spy on her. Maybe Ignatius hoped that he could get her to care about civil law. Anything was possible.

“What?” Petronius said, glaring at his sister.

Oops. She’d been looking for a little too long. “Nothing,” Felias said, raising her chin. “Other than how confounding I find it that you enjoy this nonsense.”

Petronius went back to reading. “Apologies if you are not a fan of your obligation to the people of this city,” he said, with that same offended tone of voice that Felias had heard from Ignatius. “Which I am supposed to be helping you with, in case you have forgotten.”

If only she had some mud to throw back at him. “Why should it not be your obligation?” Felias said, turning in her seat to face him. “You seem rather competent, and you, ideally, have a long career ahead of you. Would it not be easier if I come to the defense of the city, and you handle its law?”

“Because it would be unbecoming of the queen if she were not familiar with her own city,” Petronius said, not taking his eyes off his book. “Ignatius said-”

“That old blowhard-” Felias began.

Petronius looked over at her. His eyes almost glowed in the moonlight as he said, “That ‘old blowhard’ is the reason that the families are not tearing their throats out and bleeding to death on the streets. This city would not exist as it does without law and order to keep us from degenerating into violence. If you would be so kind as to not insult our mentor to my face, I would appreciate it.”

Gods, and he talked like their mother, too. There weren’t many people who could make a chill run down her spine like that. “Well,” Felias said, taking a moment to collect herself. “I find it rather strange how, artificial it all is. Some of it relies on traditional law, yes, but I am inclined to believe Ignatius and their associates came up with the rest. It feels as though I could do the same.”

“I imagine that your laws would involve a good deal more stabbing,” Petronius said, returning to his book.


Chapter 3: Hiding the Night, Part 5 (478 words) these sure are words

Spoiler! :
It took him a second before he started talking again. “And, to address your comment, the civil administration was heavily inspired by the policies of town councils upriver, nearby rabbit lords, former monarchies, and common law. Yes, the demands of this city are unique, and that requires some changes to tradition, now and in the future. That is how the law works. It took decades of research and diplomacy to create the current legal code – you could not, in fact, come up with it on your own.”

Seriously, it was hard to get a read on him. He was probably being sincere about this civil administration business, given how testy he was about it (and she didn’t want to strangle him at all). Felias couldn’t understand why he found it so interesting, or how he’d put up being around Ignatius for the last several years, but she’d met stranger people. What she wasn’t sure about was his motive. Was he some loyal pawn of Ignatius, just carrying on the older lion’s legacy while keeping Felias in check? Was Petronias there to keep a close eye on Felias and report back to Ignatius about her behavior and actions? Not that she knew how to figure that out, other than asking more questions. He was already pissed off at her, so why stop now?

“Where is Ignatius?” Felias said, looking down at her own book. She read the same sentence a couple times, trying to parse the dense language. Something about substitutes for a tax.

“Likely back at the family estate,” said Petronius. “I imagine they are consulting with their advisors. They go to sleep late at night.”

Felias crossed her arms. “Why not pay us a visit? I would appreciate explanations for some of these laws, at the least.”

Petronius huffed. “If you are having any problems with the language, I have no issues clarifying it for you.”

“Regardless, this is their jurisdiction,” said Felias, pretending to read. “Not that I do not appreciate you being here, but surely they could find some time to assist their queen.”

Petronius took a deep breath before he said, “You may have a point. Nonetheless, they thought it would be more useful if I was here to assist you. I am supposed to be your advisor, and that I have many more years ahead of me than Ignatius does.” Setting the book aside, Petronius clasped his paws together on the table and looked over at his sister. “On that note, where are you? I have just completed section 4.1, and I would be happy to quiz you when you have done the same.”

Hm. So much for that conversation. She’d have to find some way to interrogate him later. “Give me a few more minutes,” Felias said, resisting the urge to yawn. She had a long and boring night ahead of her.


Chapter 4: Breadwinners, Part 1 (551 words) hahaha

Spoiler! :
Vela could already feel the heat of the mid-morning sun radiating off her shoulders as she and the guard behind her made their way through the crowded streets of Caelis. She knew she stuck out, between the satchel slung over her shoulder, the broad-rimmed thatch hat, and the orange robes that stretched down to her ankles and wrists, tied around her waist with a thin cord. More than a few fruit sellers and clothes makers stepped out in front of her, hawking their wares and offering discounts. To say nothing about the guards posted at street corners and by shops, wearing the colors of other families, glaring at her as she passed by. It wasn’t her fault that she had to slip through a couple other families’ territories to get where she needed to go.

Keeping her head low and walking briskly, Vela weaved her way down narrow alleyways, through the rows of tents and tarps that marked open markets, and alongside the walls of mansions and barracks. Creeks made by diverting the Fusca glittered in the sunlight as she passed over bridges. Color banners stretching down from where they’d been hung almost bushed against her hat in the breeze. Gorgeous enough to write about, and she couldn’t help but come up with some ideas to improve a poem she’d left on her desk. And, eventually, the smell of rising bread started to overwhelm her as she rounded a corner and made her way down one final alleyway.

The guard caught up behind her, standing at attention as Vela pushed open the door. Heat wafted over Vela, bringing back years spent in this brick-walled, wooden-floored bakery. Her eyes darted between the loaves on shelves, the huge brick oven against the back, the new and old equipment lining the walls. And then her brother, a bit taller than she remembered, pale fur, starting to develop muscles, smiling his way through a conversation with what looked like merchants, between their pants, round hats, and what looked like rings and necklaces. The merchants were just about done, given they were already carrying their goods in a bag.

“Vela!” her brother said, waving as the merchants turned around and walked off. “How’s it been?”

"Great, actually,” she said as she walked over. Vela felt herself relaxing for the first time since she’d left the mansion. At least she didn’t have to act so noble and dignified here. “More visitors, more performances, more events. I’m keeping busy.”

“Sounds like it,” the brother said, shoving the coins he’d been given into a box. “And we got everything ready for you.”

Pulling her satchel in front of her and opening it, Vela said, “Thank you so much. I know this was on short notice and everything.” Vela took out all the coins she’d kept in the satchel and set them on the table.

“Of course, of course,” the brother said, separating the coins and hovering a claw over them as he counted, lips moving ever so slightly as he did so. He glanced up at her briefly – it was a little more than they’d agreed to. Vela nodded as little as she could, in case the guard noticed anything. Taking the hint, her brother continued the conversation. “Helps that we have a new set of paws around here.”


Chapter 4: Breadwinners, Part 2 (1033 words) ah siblings

Spoiler! :

“Oh?” Vela said, setting her elbows on the table and propping her head on her paws. “Who?”

With a little too wide of a smile, Vela’s brother stepped out of the way. In between the baked bread, flour, yeast, and other ingredients spilling out from cabinets and resting on countertops, Vela could see the new worker setting loaves in the oven. Tall, with long arms and a dark mane. They had a serious expression on their face, eyes drooping slightly. Only wearing an apron and shorts, the fire in the oven shoved off their muscles as they crouched down and stared at the fire. A slight scowl, and then they grabbed another log and tossed in it. Something about the way they didn’t even notice that anyone was watching them, the way they were fixated on something that required as much time and patience and thought as baking bread. She could always appreciate someone dedicated to their craft.

“They’re mine, just so you know,” Vela’s brother whispered into her ear.

Vela flinched. Right. She was here to buy bread, not ogle the workers. “You can have them,” she said quickly, pulling herself back. “Not like I would have the time to make it work.”

Raising his eyebrows, Vela’s brother tilted his head in their direction. “They’re pretty handsome though, right?” he said.

Ugh, now she could feel herself blushing. Vela wasn’t entirely sure if it was a crush, or if she just appreciated this worker’s aesthetic. Either way, she knew there wasn’t any harm in admitting it. Floriana had a couple partners herself – old friends and fellow servants who weren’t quite familiar enough to make a polycule with Vela – but it still felt vaguely wrong. Like acknowledging the worker’s focus and looks would make Floriana a little less unique, a little less profound. At least her brother had his eye on them. “A little,” she said with a sheepish smile. “Do they know you’re interested?”

Now it was Vela’s brother’s turn to smile awkwardly. “I was going to ask eventually? It just hasn’t felt like the right time yet. We hired them a couple weeks ago, so we’ve been spending most of our time training them. And they’ve been doing a fantastic job – you wouldn’t even know they’re new to this. I’m almost afraid to break their concentration there, hahaha. It doesn’t help they’re so quiet and shy most of the time. I don't want to scare them.”

“And you’ve never been good at asking people out,” Vela said with a smirk.

Vela’s brother rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah,” he said. “Not like I’ve had much practice in the first place, with the job and all.” He set his arm down. “But we’re already working together, so that part’s easier. As long as they don’t quit. Or find another job. Or you end up running off with them. That'd be embarrassing for me.”

“No one’s running off with anyone,” Vela said, smiling and shaking her head. She heard the door opening, and glanced back to see a couple of maned lions step in, paws clasped together and dressed in light gray robes like Vela’s. They looked young, and they had the smiles and confidence in their step of a new couple, or a soon-to-be couple.

“Yep, right, your order,” Vela’s brother said. He swung around and made his way through the sea of equipment and baked goods as the couple stepped up to the table. Vela stepped aside, exchanging polite smiles with the closer lion.

“At least let me know how the family is before I go,” Vela called.

Coming back with a bag, Vela’s brother set it down in front of her. The smell of fresh bread washed over her; she breathed it in and sighed. “Mom and dad are off with suppliers,” Vela’s brother said. “Now that they have the time to do that. Oh, and our eldest sister dropped by a week or two back. She thinks she might get promoted to the lord’s guard if she plays her cards right.”

Vela blinked. She took the bag, but she didn’t have enough time to say anything else before her brother beelined for the couple and started talking to them. They wanted to order something for their honeymoon, they’d heard about this place through word of mouth, they wanted something or another. That conversation slipped out of her mind quickly.

It’d been a couple years since she’d seen most of her siblings, mainly because she’d left to work for the Laetanus family. She was the second-youngest child (her brother was the youngest), and she’d taken on more roles in the bakery growing up specifically because the older kids had gone off to join the miliary. With their occasional return from a tour or campaign or border defense, she’d only gotten to see snippets of their lives in marriages, ceremonies, rituals, festivals. Vela would barely get to know them before they were gone again. The idea that her sister might end up at the same place she did was, honestly terrifying. Would that sister be anything like Vela remembered? What would they think of each other? Would they have anything in common? Would they just be strangers?

The couple walked away, still holding paws. “Yeah, I know, I was surprised too,” said Vela’s brother as he came back over to her. “But it sounds like she’s been hauling ass on the battlefield, and her commanders decided to train her and see if she’s worth promoting. It’d be fun to have her back, you know?”

“Oh, yes, absolutely,” Vela said quickly. She paused to collect herself. “Wow. I can’t imagine she’d have any issues with that training. She was already absurdly strong.”

“Mhm!” Vela’s brother said with a nod. “If you see her, let me know! Might be worth trying to have a get-together or something. But yeah, I’ve got more than a few customers coming in today, and I know you’ve got stuff going on. See you later?”

She would’ve loved to keep talking, maybe about other siblings or her dad’s leg pain or how her parents were handling Vela’s sister possibly coming back, but he did have a point.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  








akdsjfh you know that feeling where you start writing a scene but then you get bored with the scene so you move on and start writing a different scene and then you get bored with that scene so you move on to an entirely different WIP and then you get bored with that so you move on-
— AceassinOfTheMoon