My Defiance

It soared out of midnight, all gas envelope and aerosolized Nightmare, propelled by only God knows what. It carried a tiny bomber bay, loaded with a lethality that would have made any nation quake to its roots, if any knew it existed.

The airship was black as night and quiet as death. It harbored no pilot, guided only by an intricate clockwork array designed to get the ship from Point A to Point B. No living navigator could have survived such close proximity to the payload for the duration of the voyage.

And so the vessel sailed on, unheeded and unnoticed.

Until…

A klaxon sang out somewhere far below. Spotlights lit the night, sweeping the sky for a target. One swept past the airship — then back. Others joined it, until the whole thing was lit from the ground.

The beam of one light narrowed, focusing on the bay, searching for… something.

There! A name.

My Defiance.

A question as much as an answer, neither of which would ever be known. The torpedo doors opened, and death fell from the sky.

A Warm Glow

Orthael watched the child raise her weapon to point at him, felt the Judgement shiver slightly in recognition. Through it, the All-Consumer whispered of times long past, when demigods and archangels had come to the lands of men to fight darkness.

The triple-flamed shield of the Paladin Guard emblazoned on his golden shield seemed to vibrate with power, tugging the tip of the Judgement to face a threat. No, he whispered to himself, feeling his pastoral pendant under his armour. No, she is a child and the Flame welcomes her into its embrace.

With a gathered effort of will, he put away the Judgement for a while. He drew upon the warmth within and spoke a greeting imbued with the power of the Church.

“The Fire be with you, child. Its warmth comfort you, its light guide you, its purity inspire you.”

Orthael’s voice was quiet, but he knew the words would carry – just as he knew tears would dry and hearts would lift. There was no flash of light, but it was magic all the same.

Flames of the Fire

“Orthael!” she spat. “Protector of life, servant of the All-Consumer.” Her voice dripped disdain. “Summoned by a local parish, no doubt.” Orthael nodded. “To protect us.” He nodded again.

“Well, holy man, where were you when my village was destroyed by one of the Greater Dead? Where were you when everything and everyone I loved and cared about was ruined utterly?” Malika was weeping openly now, her grip tightening on Morduth’s hilt, its blue flames traveling further up her arm with each spoken word. “Where were you when we needed you, when I needed you?”

She lowered Morduth, bringing the sword into a ready position, and when she spoke again, her voice was cold, empty, bereft of grief and rage alike.

“Defend yourself, holy man, if you can. I would know the strength of your resolve — and the power of your god.”

And with that she charged, raising Morduth to strike even as the sword voiced a single word of alarm and objection:

MISTRESS!

And then blade crossed blade, blue flame mixing with orange.

An Introduction and a Challenge

“I ask you again,” Malika said. “Who be you, and how be it you come to be here, just at this very moment? Be you a final test, holy man or not, to confirm my resolve, to baptize me in the fire of purification against the forces of Ashmar?” She could feel her tone rising with every word, feel the heat of anger warm her face, feel the wetness of the tears sliding down her cheeks once more. “What be you, holy man? I would know, else I cut you down where you stand.”

Mistress… Morduth cautioned, but he was cut short as the other man spoke.

“I am Orthael, young swordmaiden,” he replied, “Paladin, holy warrior of the All-Church, servant of the All-Consuming Fire, wielder of Judgement versus the demons of Ashmar.”

He was silent then, and Malika took a long a moment to evaluate this man who stood so calmly before her. The rage and despair welled up inside her once more, and when she spoke again, she found herself shouting, her rage and grief now full and complete.

Of the Dark, Of the Light

Malika brought Morduth up so it pointed at the newcomer. Blue flame flared up bright and tall along the blade’s length, spilling over the hilt and onto her hand and wrist. She didn’t notice. All her attention was on this man of the cloth standing before her and on the weapon he carried.

Strangely, his sword seemed to call to her, not with desire to be wielded by her hand. It was clear it belonged well and truly to this holy man. Instead, it was more a voice of camaraderie, of kindred spirits, of alliance.

Morduth seemed to feel it as well. Mistress, that weapon he carries is no mere sword.

“I can see that,” she murmured back, watching the orange flames licking along the edge of the sword.

No, you misunderstand, Mistress, Morduth continued. That sword is easily as old as I am — and possibly even more powerful.

Malika nodded. She felt something else, too. The power of her blade was born of darkness and pain while the power of his was clear and bright like a blade-shaped window into a summer’s day.

Servants of Fire

Malika wiped away the tears from her eyes with the palm of one hand and gracefully rose to her feet, turning to face the newcomer.

“Be you friend or foe?” she asked. “Morduth insists you be friend, but I be not so willing to trust in his judgment just yet.”

Mistress, replied the sword, I am hurt. The sword’s tone in her mind was more amused than injured, and so she ignored the jab. She had eyes only for the stranger before her, who remained cloaked in shadow at the edge of the clearing.

“Step forward,” she commanded, “so I may determine for myself. I have no fear of either man or beast.” She gestured to the dozens of dead and torn lycander bodies littered around her. “I have no fear of you, for Mardain blesses me this night.” At this the sword in her hand flared briefly again, as if to confirm her claim.

The man stepped forward, and Malika saw that he was robed in the vestments of the Church — and carried a sword of his own.

“Be at rest, child,” he said, “for I believe we both fight for the Fire.”

Uncomfortable Silence

Jimmy set his lunch down on the break table and plopped down in a chair, heaving a huge sigh.

“Man, what a day,” he said, picking up his sandwich and taking a bite.

“Uh…” Frank said, looking at Jimmy then glancing quickly away to catch Seth’s eye, sharing a disturbed expression.

“Whampf?” Jimmy asked around a mouthful of bread and bologna.

“Nothing,” Seth said.

Jimmy swallowed and looked between his two friends, studying their expressions. “What?” he repeated.

“It’s nothing,” Frank said, sounding uncomfortable. “Just, uh, have you looked in a mirror today?”

Jimmy tore another bite from his sandwich and chewed silently for a moment while nodding. “Of course. I had to comb my hair and shave this morning, like usual.”

“Ok,” Seth said. “We were just wondering.”

Jimmy set his sandwich down and looked again at his friends. “Seriously, guys, what’s got your dander up?”

The other two were silent for a moment. Finally, it was Seth that spoke.

“Well, you might want to look again when you get a chance.”

Blood Rain

“There is blood in the rain,” stated the Deep One, matter-of-factly. He stood at the deck railing, staring out over the city spread out below.

“What do you mean, sire?” Kolster asked, looking up at the imposing figure looming over him.

“There is blood in the rain,” the Deep One said again, as if repeating his previous statement automatically lent it additional clarity. “Someone has broken apart a rain god and sewn it among the clouds.”

Kolster looked puzzled and turned his attention to the cloudless sky above. The moon was full this night, lighting the landscape in white light.

“But sire,” Kolster said, “it’s not even raining.”

“Nevertheless,” the Deep One said, turning away from the railing and walking back toward his chambers, “it is raining somewhere — and there is blood in it.”

Kolster sighed and followed after his master.

Little Black Boxes

The refactoring of Ficlatte has begun. I don’t expect this to mean anything to any of you, not even the ones who frequent the site on a regular basis. The work I’m doing right now is 100% completely behind the scenes, hidden by the large curtains that lead to the cold and drafty back rooms of the castle. Let me just put it this way — if I do my job correctly, no one will notice that I’ve even done a thing.

And that’s as it should be. But despite the fact that no one will see the changes, they are necessary ones to make. Right now, it’s a fair comparison to say that all the code that runs Ficlatte, if it was poured into a large, black box, would look like a messy tangle of colored wires looping in and around each other, making snarls here and there, and generally just looking like an entire troop of monkeys got in there and started mucking around with things.

And it gets worse every time one of us on the development team adds a new feature or tweaks a little bit of code. We just keep adding new wires to the box that link existing things together in new and interesting ways and other wires that do new things they’ve never done before. Looking at it right now, for example, you’d probably see a bunch of blue wires in there. Those go to all the authors and users who come to the site. The white wires link to all the stories and interconnect a fair few of them together in long chains of storytelling logic. The green wires are the prompts, there to spark new and creative ideas. And the red wires — well, those are the dangerous ones. You don’t want to go playing with those. No, sir. They lead to the challenges, where some of the heaviest lifting gets done. And somewhere in that tangled mess are these little copper wires. They looks haphazard and random, but they’re really not. They connect some of the most important bits of logic together that keep the site running smoothly. Pull any one of them, and the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. Probably with flames. And smoke.

All that to say, someone has to sort this mess out. The more things we add, the worse the mess gets and the harder it is to maintain. So I’m working on a little project called refactoring, where I take this large, black box of tangled wires and carefully pull it apart — without breaking anything, mind you — and tear it down into several smaller black boxes that are all connected together. The blue wires go into their own box, and I write something like ‘Authors’ or ‘Profiles’ in white Sharpie on the lid. The white wires go into a different box, which gets its own appropriate label. The same goes for the green wires and the red wires. And when I’m all done I should have a separate box for each modular function where the wires inside are all neatly patched together and organized and easy to see where they go and what they do. The copper wires stay in the central box, of course. That’s the beating heart of the whole thing. And all these newer, smaller boxes have new wires that lead back to the primary box, as well, because everything still has to be able to talk to each other. But what that leaves me with is a system that’s clean, neat, and tidy, easier to maintain if something does break, and even easier to add on to as we develop new features for the site.

Fortunately, it’s not overly difficult work. It’s just a matter of doing it, and as I said earlier, I’ve already started on it. In a day or two, the whole refactoring process will be complete and no one but myself and the other two developers on the team will even know I’ve been in here working. But I’m excited about it, because we have some really neat new things planned for Ficlatte, and this refactoring process is going to make it so much easier to implement those features. Some of them are even done already; they just haven’t quite made it down the pipe to the site yet. (And frankly they’re part of the reason why this whole refactoring is even necessary in the first place; we kinda made a little bit of a mess back in these cold, drafty rooms, so now we have to clean up after ourselves a little).

Stay tuned, folks. I love the work we’ve done already for Ficlatte, and I’m excited about what else we have planned. And if you haven’t checked out Ficlatte yet, this is a great time to do so. It looks a little drab and grey around the castle yet, but the interior decorators have already been hard at work to give the place a little more color, I assure you. And it’s a great place to meet some great folks who love words and for you to practice your use of words, as well.

Corners

I drag a finger along a wall as I walk around the room. I can feel the grainy surface of drywall and paint. Approaching the corner, my fingertips lift off the surface slightly, pulling further away as I draw closer to the junction of the adjoining wall.

“Why’d you do that, Linds?” Jubal is watching my progress, at my request. I need a witness.

“Just watch,” I breathe quietly. I step closer, and the laws of physics break and bend. The closer I step the further away the corner gets. My hand draws closer, but the corner pulls even further away.

“Whoa,” I hear Jubal say from behind me. I can hear the shock in his breathless tone. It mirrors my own the first time I experienced this.

I press closer still, and now the space between hand and corner visibly distorts. My fingers twist and the walls warp, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot touch that corner seam. Nor any other. They are all beyond my reach.

“What. The. Hell,” Jubal whispers.

I pull my hand back and rub my fingers. “An excellent question.”

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of Words