The Words We Use

My brother likes to greet me in different languages – mostly Spanish. I am not a linguist, and no matter how many times I’m told what the correct response is, I can’t seem to remember when he starts throwing words at me. Even if I did remember, it would be an automatic response – something programmed in that I didn’t have the know-how to change to suit my own purposes.

How many automatic responses do we use on a day-to-day basis? How many times do words come out as simple puffs of air, devoid of meaning because they are expected? It’s a dance, things we say to keep up apperances, to show the world that we are functioning human beings.

But words are important. The thoughts we convey with words are also important. And it’s something I didn’t realize until I started looking.

Media is saturated with stories – books, movies, TV, comics, the web… they surround us, telling us who or what we should be. I could talk about advertisers, but that’s been done, and really… those aren’t the stories we tell ourselves, not in the same way.

Take the recent Suicide Squad movie. Harley Quinn was one of the strongest characters in that movie… but she was broken on a fundimental level. The relationship she had with the Joker was one of abuse. To women starving for a powerful role model however, she was like water in the desert. She was feminine power, and when the words we have, the words we have been given are broken, she seems like the best we can get. Utter instability, an abusive relationship, and a life sentance in prision.

I could go on a whole rant about how women tend to be portrayed in action movies, but let me leave by saying this: words are powerful – even the ones we think don’t matter. Even the ones society expects us to say.

 

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The Anora Cartwright Chronicles

No one noticed the girl who materialized with a thump and a bang outside the Starbuck’s. Those who were outside hadn’t had their early morning coffee yet, those inside were too engrossed in overly sweet over-priced coffee to notice the strangely dressed girl who was dusting off her ruffled skirt. A clever little clockwork monkey whirred and clicked as he hid underneath her mat of curly hair. She adjusted her satchel and checked that her ray gun was still secure before walking inside and up to the counter.

“Excuse me ma’am, but can you please direct me to 19th century London? I seem to have lost my way… again.”

The harried barista looked up from the white mocha breve she was making and did a double take.

“I think you might be a couple of months late for the convention miss,”

“Anora Cartwright,” the girl said.

“Alright, well, order a coffee or else let someone else order,” the barista said.

Suddenly there was a crash and a startlingly loud bang. A dark cloaked figure rose from a cloud of smoke. Several of the coffee shop patrons screamed. One or two fainted. Several others started looking for the candid cam. Anora shook her head.

“Amateur,” she muttered under her breath. Anora lifted Geoffrey the clockwork monkey from her shoulder and sent him scampering away to hide.

“Anora Cartwright,” the dark shape rumbled.

“Cuthbert the Melodramatic. Still haven’t figured out the Temporal Paradox Manipulator I see,” Anora answered.

“You will hand over the jewel now little girl,” Cuthbert rumbled. He strode forward; his dark cape swirling ominously, his hand held out in a manner suggestive of a man who was not used to being refused. Anora pulled out a deep blue jewel necklace and held it up.

“You mean this jewel?” she asked sweetly. Cuthbert practically dove for the jewel but Anora danced back out of reach. “Fat chance slowpoke. This jewel is going to the queen.” Anora glanced back at the barista – who was gaping like a fish suddenly deprived of water and obviously hoping that this whole thing was simply some elaborate hoax.

“Terribly sorry about all this. You may want to contact whatever local law enforcement you have in this time. Perhaps they will show up before the Vikings start rampaging too badly,” Anora said. Cuthbert strode forward, hands held out like he wanted to strangle the girl in front of him. Anora jumped up onto the counter, yanked out her ray gun, and fired a quick two shots at the lights. The plastic covers cracked and the bulbs shattered.

Cuthbert laughed. “Not quite the effect you were looking for, is it?”

Indeed, the number of windows and the light outside meant that there was no significant darkening in the room. Cuthbert snapped his fingers and a hoard of Viking berserkers landed in the middle of the coffee shop, having fallen from somewhere in the 8th century.

There was a half-second of utter silence before the remaining clientele unanimously decided that the current premises were no longer entirely safe. Screaming commenced.

Anora dodged a hairy fist and leapt from the counter. The berserkers proceeded to destroy the blender, the espresso machine, and half the tables before Cuthbert could get them pointed out the door and after the rapidly disappearing girl and her clockwork monkey.

Anora ducked into an open empty garage in a residential neighborhood to catch her breath. Geoffrey jumped from her shoulder and scampered off to explore. Anora was not concerned – he always managed to find her again.

Simply by looking around the garage Anora started to piece together where and when her T.P.M device had landed her. 21st century, by the look of the car, although technically it could be a throwback style from the 22nd. The lack of dystopian security ruled that out though. She inwardly shivered. The 22 hundreds were exciting in all the wrong ways. This was earlier though, probably around 2014ish. Not the easiest time to navigate, but she’d been though worse. With a shrug Anora tucked herself into a quiet corner and pulled out her T.P.M.

The matchbox-sized contraption had a host of new scorch marks, and a new crack in the casing. The problem with discount T.P.M.s – they were junk when they were new. Anora eased the lid open and winced at the mess inside. No wonder the ride had been so rough – half the gears were out of place. Anora pulled her repair kit out of her satchel and started poking around the innards with a screwdriver. She had gotten pretty good at jury-rigging it back together, but she wasn’t sure how many more times she could fix it before it broke for good. When that happened… with luck it would be a good time she got stranded in.

Anora had just finished wrapping the T.P.M. in yet another layer of duct tape when Geoffrey came bounding back in with a squeak and a whirr. He leapt into her lap, turned, and started chattering at the girl who had just entered from the house. The girl stopped short and stared at Anora and the clockwork monkey. Anora lurched to her feet, scattering her toolkit across the floor.

“My apologies Miss, I thought the house was empty,” Anora said.

“Are you some kind of robber?” the girl asked.

Anora dipped a curtsey, “Anora Cartwright, displaced time-traveler and historian to the Queen, long may she reign. This is my companion Geoffrey. We are not burglars, nor do we intend you any harm.”

“Cool. I’m Zoe Holmes.” The girl leaned up against the wall, arms crossed. “What are you doing in my garage?”

“I was repairing my equipment after narrowly escaping the clutches of my nemesis Cuthbert the Melodramatic and his band of Viking berserkers. I am sorry if I have inconvenienced you in any way.”

“Is that a gun?” Zoe asked, pointing at the thing that hung on Anora’s hip. Anora pulled the ray gu from the holster and passed it over.

“A customized V80 Zombie Hunter from the year 3021. Not a good time to visit, but they make a good gun.”

Zoe hefted the mahogany and brass ray gun and glanced down the sight.

“Can I shoot it?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer she zapped a pile of extension cords into a puddle of goo. Anora took her ray gun back before Zoe could hurt anyone.

Geoffrey screamed. Anora shoved the ray gun back in the holster, dropped, and started gathering her scattered toolkit.

“That is Geoffrey’s danger alarm, the berserkers must have almost caught up to me. I’m sorry, but I have to go.” She buckled the last strap and ran to the door of the garage. Already the first of the Vikings were turning down the street, sweating and stumbling in her heavy furs.

“Awesome!” Zoe said. She leaned further out the door to see.

“They keep life interesting. Stay low and they shouldn’t do too much damage before Cuthbert realizes I’ve time-jumped.” Anora started pushing buttons on her T.P.M.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Zoe asked.

“I can’t stay here,” Anora answered.

“Then let me come, just on one trip.” Zoe grabbed Anora’s arm. Anora glanced at Geoffrey, who shrugged his tiny shoulders.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get you back to this time,” Anora said.

“I’ve been trying to escape this time most of my life,” Zoe answered. The Viking was getting closer and Zoe would not relinquish hold of Anora’s arm.

“Fine.” Anora grabbed Geoffrey and punched the green button on the T.P.M. With a pop they were whisked away through time.

The Vikings continued their search for another three hours and two thirds of them were rounded up by the police before Cuthbert sent them all back to their proper time. There was head scratching and minor panic attacks for weeks after, but eventually people forgot all about it. Time was like that – it always fixed itself.

Street Fair

Nearly ten years the Summer fair had gone on – every year the government had tried to shut it down, convinced that it was a den of mages, thieves, and hackers. The organizers, however, always had every form complete in triplicate, every license up-to-date, and boasted that never in the ten years since the fair had taken over the strip of main street between first and fifth had there ever been an incident. So every year during the last week of summer people flocked to the grass and gardens that had somehow hung on in the middle of the city for food, music, and street performers.

Of course the street fair really was a cover for mages, thieves and hackers to do their business, but that wasn’t something everybody needed to know.

It was still early morning when Meg eased their food truck into the assigned spot – the parking was not made easier by Drey’s wing in her face and the worried exclamations about who or what they were about to run into.

“Relax, would you?” Meg muttered. She parked the truck and pulled the e-brake, shooting a worried glance at the vaguely threatening sky. Not that rain ever stopped the regulars from showing up, but, well, it was wet.

“We passed three watchers on the way here, and there’s another one about ten feet away. We’re going to get caught this time, I know it.” Drey hunched her shoulders, trying to hide further in the already cramped truck.

“This thing has been happening for ten years now and nobody’s gotten caught. Besides, I need gold plating and bytechips, and Trevor only ever comes out for this. Now go make yourself useful.” Meg smacked Drey’s shoulder, half shoving the dragon out of the passenger seat. Drey grumbled as she shimmered a deep purple color, keeping her shredded wings tucked close against her body.

“I’m gonna go stake the place out. Sonia’s coming, right?” Drey asked.

“If she’s not I’m gonna kill her myself. Shoo!” Meg waved, Drey sullenly stalked off, playing the part of goth punk dragon just a little too well. Meg watched her go for a minute before turning back to the mess that was their food truck – Stormy Dayz gourmet sandwiches. Available for catering. Honestly she liked the catering menu better – she got to play and pretty the food up in ways that just wasn’t practical for street food.

It turned into a fine day. Meg leaned out the window of the food truck, watching the people pass by. Business was good, but she was enjoying the break.

“I was told your special sauce is to die for.” A pale gold unicorn sidled up to the window, nervous and walking in such a way that seemed unusually timid. Even for a first-timer. Meg stared a sandwich.

“If it was the taco guy two booths down he’s just out of lettuce and doesn’t want to admit it. Chicken or pork?” Meg asked. Her hands flew over the bar, building up a vegetarian sandwich. Because unicorns didn’t eat meat, everyone knew that.

“Both. With a side of onions,” the unicorn replied. Meg paused, hand hovering over the chopping board for just a second too long. Mage and hacker, with a bounty to boot. Apparently Ivan thought they didn’t already have enough trouble.

“I don’t usually just hand out onions, that’ll cost you extra.” Meg turned back with the sandwich, plating it up with ease. The unicorn took it with her telekinetic rune, hovering the sandwich within easy reach.

“I can pay,” the unicorn said. Meg sighed, huffing bright pink hair out of her face as she leaned her elbows on the counter.

“You’re obviously new here, so I’ll point out the regulars. Gemma is performing tonight, stage three. Two booths down is Heidi – she sells the best bags and the price is right. Coradine is a block up, with the tie dye, she can get your color matched. And Drax is opposite – his drawings have the best chances in town.” Meg rattled off the list of movers – people who had a habit of being able to get fugitives into and out of the city.

“I don’t know, a little bird told me yours was the best,” the unicorn said. A little bird. Gigabyte. Again. Ugh. If he wasn’t her twin Meg would gladly throttle him.
Meg took a casual glance down the street – Heidi had the nearest Watcher distracted, but that wouldn’t last.

“Listen kid, I’ve got a special running tonight. Find me round tear-down time. You got a name?” Meg asked.

“Solara,” the unicorn answered.

“Solara, right. Now scram, I’ve got customers.” Meg turned away to deal with the line that was forming again. This was going to be trouble, Meg could tell. Luckily it was the kind of trouble she thrived on. Much as she whined… it was really fun giving the Hunters the slip.

 Lady of the Scarlet Glove

Rydon, my brother though he broke that trust long ago, lies sleeping across the room. His face is peaceful, blank, lacking the pride that broke him and the pain that once drove him. He looks like a stranger, some traveler come to stay for the night and nothing more. He does not look like the man who tore a nation asunder, the strange innocence on his sleeping face does not suggest a man who allied with a monster to take back a broken crown.

And when he wakes… it may be screaming, or it may be crying, or else that blank look that will be content staring at the stonework of the wall for hours on end. There is no way to know, not since the Telepath broke his mind, a few years since.
Kamirth says that I should put him out of his misery, but what she hardly understands is that I have had enough of killing. And… I could not even turn him out, as Mouse suggests. I know him too well. I understand him too deeply. And I know, but for a twist of fate, it could have been me that traveled down to the depths he did. I cannot say whether I would have lasted as long.

I am an old woman now, too long driven by vengeance and hate, given this one last chance to redeem myself for the suffering I have caused. As my last act, perhaps I can ease the suffering of the one I used to love more than life itself.

But the old share in common this – the desire to be remembered after our bodies return to the earth. I have been called many things during my life, but kind has never been one of them. Perhaps I deserved it. Triune knows how easy it was for me towards the end. Triune knows how… Ah, nevermind. I shall come to that in its proper time.

Now, on the eve of this battle that I feel will finally claim my life, I wish to set the record straight. Here I shall leave the last will and testament of Pyra Andraste, last daughter of that royal house, heir of the last true Sylvan king, the Lady of the Scarlet Glove. If you who read this have any kindness within you, I ask that you remember me not as a nightmare, but as a person driven by fate, betrayed, and left to fall. I will not try to justify what I have become, but… the Triune works in mysterious ways. Perhaps through the setting down of the facts the tapestry of my life will emerge.

The Sound of Bells

I could feel the moment Thunder crossed onto holy ground. Safety, even in Sylva. There was no violence in the place a raven had blessed.

I dismounted, bloody mangled arm still held tight to my chest, and led Thunder to the pond. There was a low stone building a few steps further – probably the chapel itself, although why they had built it above ground was beyond me. Cinder bumped her nose up against my knee, whining and doing that slow tail wag she always did when she really wanted everything to be ok.

“Zartha nahoom,” I murmured. “All will be well.” Thunder dropped his head to drink, I slipped to my knees next to him and eased the rough bandage off my arm. Of course it had to be my right – my left wasn’t nearly steady enough for drawing decent runes.

Cinder barked once and retreated, whining, behind Thunder’s leg. I looked up to see a tall pale man in black robes approaching from the chapel building itself. I stood, keeping Thunder between myself and him. It may be hollowed ground, but… I was a Canyith in Sylva. And apparently the two countries were at war. It would have been nice to know that before I began this foolhardy quest.

“My horse just needs water,” I said. I wove my fingers through Thunder’s mane, ready to leap on. Thunder snorted, pawing the ground.

The raven-blest came to a halt a good few paces away and held his hands open. “You have no need to fear. This is holy ground.”

Cinder didn’t growl, so I lowered my guard slightly and let Thunder drink.

“The brothers are finishing evening prayers, you are welcome to eat with us,” the raven-blest said.

“I don’t want to bring trouble to you,” I said. The raven-blest smiled in that irritating Sylvan way – showing teeth, showing emotion.

“There will be no trouble. Come, at least let your beast graze.”

I glanced down at Thunder’s shoulder – his grey back was flecked with sweat and dirt. He could use a rest.

“Just let us be for a few hours,” I mumbled. The raven-blest smiled again, nodding.

“The dining hall is that building. Feel free to join us if you change your mind.” He pointed to another squat building behind the chapel. Apparently the grounds were bigger than I had expected. Or else he was trying to tempt me off the holy ground so that they could kill me without incurring the raven’s wrath. I nodded anyway. The raven-blest finally walked away, leaving me with my thoughts and my bleeding arm.

I somehow yanked Thunder’s saddle and bridle off and set him loose to graze. Cinder stayed close, whining at me until she caught the scent of some rabbit and ran off to chase it. She knew enough to stay close, but I couldn’t help worrying – that dog was my only friend in this whole stupid country. Not counting my horse.

This was such a stupid trip – I still don’t know why I went, except that it was the one thing my mother had asked of me – to see the place of her birth before I became a woman and joined with a man. Already I can see why she never did go back like some of the other Sylvan captives had.

Twilight fell, and I pulled jerky out of my saddle bags as I watched Thunder graze. Cinder lay against my side, ears perked as she watched the raven-blest – there were about five that I could count – wander the grounds.

Someone broke away from the group – a soldier, not a raven-blest. I scrambled to my feet and drew my knife, holding it in my left hand, my right clenched to my chest.

The soldier was carrying a bowl, he stopped a few feet away, within easy talking distance.

“This soup is going to go to waste if you don’t eat it. My name is Thomas by the way. Thomas Swiftglaive.” He reached forward, holding his right hand out to me. I took a step back.

“I don’t need Sylvan food,” I answered. It was stupid, but I had to say something.

The soldier shrugged and crouched, setting the bowl on the ground. He lifted a rune from around his neck and set it beside. “Healer – it should be fully charged. If anyone bothers you, tell them I said to knock it off.”

Cinder took a step towards the bowl, glancing back to ask permission. The soldier – Thomas, smiled and pulled a piece of meat from his pocket, tossing it to Cinder. Cinder caught it midair, tail wagging.

“I always wanted a dog growing up. Silverlake is a bad place for pets though,” Thomas said.

“Cinder isn’t a pet. She’s a partner,” I answered. Thomas nodded and crouched again, holding out his hand for Cinder to sniff. Great. My dog liked a Sylvan. Next thing I knew he’d be making friends with my horse.

“It’s true then? You use dogs to herd cattle?” Thomas asked.

“What does a Sylvan care?” I asked.

Thomas shrugged. “Is there a reason why I shouldn’t?”

Now I was stumbling for words as I saw everything I had ever believed about Sylvans condensed into this man who was making friends with my dog. Cinder was usually such a good judge of character.

“You eat babies!” I burst out. Not the greatest thing to say. or even one of the things I actually believed. Thomas fell over laughing, as I stood there awkwardly, burning under the moonlight.

“Do you have a name milady?” Thomas asked. He stared up at me from the ground, I tilted my head to try and make him level. I had never seen anyone so ridiculous. he might be stupid, but he didn’t seem like a threat.

“Bellera,” I answered. Thomas stood, bowing elaborately.

“Milady Bells, I will be returning this way around eventide tomorrow. I would be delighted if you would await my return, for you seem a most delightful lady.”

What on earth was the guy saying? I nodded stiffly in return. “I am duty-bound to ride within sight of castle Heartsgave. Then I intend to return to my own lands.”

“Wait for me Bells, that’s where I’m going tomorrow. I would appreciate the company.” Thomas smiled, his brown eyes shining in the moonlight. Cinder liked him, or else I never would have considered it.

“I leave when my horse is recovered. It may be another day.” That dog better still be a good judge of character. “And my name is Bellera.”

“Allow me to be selfish and say that I hope your horse waits to recover until tomorrow night. I look forward to seeing you again Bells.” Thomas bowed and walked away.

And that’s the story of how I met Thomas Swiftglaive – the man who I would fall in love with, stay in Sylva for, and who would become the father of my beautiful boys. Go figure.

Transformation

So little brother is hooked on Digimon now – a show whose entire premise makes no sense to me. However, it is pretty fun watching all the hugely over-the-top transformation sequences. Which, me being me, immediately made me think of the transformation that happens between the first draft and the last of a story.

Start throwing enough ideas at a page and and things will end up combining in weird and wonderful ways. That plot hole might just be filled by an idea pulled in from three different sources, and a layer of depth may come from a slight tweak to the existing idea.

However, I still think that it would be way cooler if there was an awesome transformation sequence and then you had a new draft. You know, with theme music and everything.

Veritas

Technically she wasn’t supposed to exist. 14 days was supposed to be the limit, but curiosity had gotten the better of them – she was the first human-avian chimera to survive that long, and the research team, funded by certain individuals who didn’t care much about the law, had been more than eager to see how such a creature would mature and develop. Dubbed Veritas as a joke, she had exceeded their wildest expectations. But four years is a long time for an eight-man team to keep a secret, and public acceptance of the idea of chimeras hadn’t quite caught up to the reality of existing chimeras. For the public, chimera still equaled monster, and the public outcry had been for her death as soon as the secret had been leaked.

Dr. Cromwell stared through the two-way mirror into Veratas’s room. It wasn’t much, just a glorified holding pen for what amounted to a lab rat. Cromwell rested his hand on the syringe on the table – poison that would end this thing that was never supposed to exist.

Veritas herself was up against the left wall, her slight frame quivering with repressed energy. She was humanoid, four foot five, covered with fine mottled brown feathers from the neck down. Scraggly brown hair dangled to her shoulders and fell in her face – the face that would have looked human if not for the intense golden eyes that peered out from it. Her hands clenched and stretched, eager, over-eager. They were human, probably the most human thing about her, and the way she continually used them to push her hair behind her ear made some of the other researchers decidedly nervous. She wore a brown shift that fell to just above her knees – nobody had ever confessed to giving it to her, but no one had taken it from her either. Her tail dropped below that, nearly brushing the floor with dark feathers when she stood. That was the most avian thing about her, a vestige of flight which in her case did nothing but get in the way. Wings had been denied her by some twist of chromosome. Her toes curled against the floor – human in shape, but rough with bird scales.

Veritas pressed against the wall, her eyes locked onto the pole that bisected the room. Cromwell curled his fingers around the syringe. He should do this now and just get it over with. It was nothing more than killing a frog for dissection. Dissection actually was her final end – there was still debate over how exactly the two halves of her genetics were fitting together. Cromwell didn’t move though. He watched as Veritas pushed off from the wall and started running. Three strides, four, five, then a leap from the top of her upturned water bowl. Her hands grasped the pole and momentum aided by a kick flipped her around so she landed on top of the pole. She crouched like some avian nightmare, staring at the door. Cromwell checked to see that his taser was within easy reach. She hadn’t done anything overtly violent, not yet, but it would be just his luck if today was the day she decided to go berserk.
Cromwell keyed in his code for the door and entered. The door hissed shut behind him. Veritas visibly cringed when she saw him. Cromwell hid the syringe behind his back. They hadn’t been kind. They hadn’t been kind, but it had been in the name of science. She was just an animal, an unnatural creature who had no purpose except to serve the science that had created her.

“Come down Veritas,” he called in a low voice. She fidgeted but didn’t leave her perch. Cromwell took a step further in. “Now Veritas,” he said, putting more command into his voice. Veritas ducked her head. Her knuckles were white around the pole, her whole body was shivering, keyed up in what could have been a fight or flight response – one in which she couldn’t decide on an action.

“Why?” It was a small voice, inaudible except for the fact that the room was otherwise silent. Cromwell shook his head to clear it. He took a step forward, till he could almost reach up and grab her. She shifted as far away as she could on the pole. Her golden eyes watched him warily.

“What am I? Why do you hurt me?” the two questions came out in a rush, like something long rehearsed and long feared.

Cromwell grabbed her arm, yanked her off the pole, and plunged the syringe into her thigh. She screeched as the needle went in; she flew backwards as soon as she was released. Cromwell watched as she died, as the question ‘why’ died on her lips. Eventually she lay limp, dead. Then she was nothing but a pile of flesh to be dissected. She was never anything more. She had never spoken. Never.
Cromwell picked up the body and carried it into the lab. Others would do what they willed with it. The public was now satisfied.