as of right now, I am just copying and pasting from the thread, labelling each bit of fiction with the post number it appears in and the author, and making no attempt to distinguish between purely in-character or out-of-character illustrative fictions.

#001 - Cruton Edit

Dreams are nonsense. Dreams are nothing more than the chaotic recycling of memories as your synapses randomly fire. There are no messages to be heard, no insights to be found, no monsters to be fought. Between you and your dreams is nothing more than the confusion of your everyday life. They have no meaning, not even that you want to fuck your mother.

At least, that's what everybody else thinks. You know better.

Your dreams are memories of a better time. A perfect time, when all was right with the world and magic was real. Not Atlantis or Camelot or even the fifties, but a time of fairy tales, the happily ever after built by noble princes and wise queens. And as this perfect vision comes to your in your dreams, as it becomes so real you could touch it, you see yourself. A beautiful vision of your own dreams realized, the perfect person you want to be. And that is when you Blossom, from an ordinary girl into a Magical Princess.

It always happens differently. For some, guides show them the way -- mysterious spirits and familiars who teach them about their powers. Others come into their birthright suddenly, like blazing stars confronted with their own mystic might. Others yet may find ancient artifacts or stumble upon great magics or strange fantastic truths that awaken the light within them. And even few find the magic of their Princess self seeping into their lives in terrifying ways and must take the first steps down the road of truth themselves.

But once they come into their power, it is not long before a Princess attracts the attention of others. This can be the most trying time, for they learn that their dreams aren't special -- there are many like them and no one knows what their relationship to each other might be. But there are a few things they can agree on. Firstly, there was once a Kingdom and each of them was a personage of great power. And second, this Kingdom fell in the Cataclycism, when a terrible force rent it asunder and left the world as a shadow of itself. What this Catacylcism was, no one is sure, but some can manage a guess.

Maybe the new Princess herself has seen them: the night things, the demons, the goblins and ogres and trolls that can haunt any shadow. Hollow, monstrous beasts who corrupt people's lives and crush their ideals, then feasting on the misery they leave in their wake. And worse, the alien men and women who control and direct them, working towards some inscrutable plan. Enemies who speak of dark cities, labyrinth worlds, endless storms, and living hells just beyond the pale of reality, where their Lords look down on the joyous potential of our world and speak the words...

There is a wise Princess, whom some call a Queen and others a Priestess, and she has said, "This is not a war to win. This is not a battle to be fought with blood and steel. This is survival. What we must do is not die for a lost Kingdom, but live in its name. Live, you bright soldiers of love and joy, live in your dreams and in the people around you and spread your magic to all their hearts. For what our enemies desire, what we must not let them have, is not our lives, but our hearts and minds. We are the defenders not of humanity, but the right to be human."

This is the life of a Magical Princess. To enrich the world around her, to drive out those who would strip life of its joy and farm its pain. To make people smile and watch them love. They have seen the best of all possible universes, and they know it is first and foremost built of hope. And what they hope, what they must believe, is that one day they will see its return.

The Kingdom come, Its will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Princess: The Fading -- a storyteller game of fighting fear.

#089 - Azunth Edit

For uncounted millennia, humanity hid and suffered the predations of inhuman and all too human monsters. The ordinary men and woman of the world feared what went on in the dark, for they knew that the awful beings who controlled the world lived in those shadows. Some despaired. Others tried to hide. Many tried to ignore the gnawing fear that they lived at the whim of things both immoral and powerful. But a brave few dreamers fought back their fear and fought against the dark. For uncounted millennia, those that fought the dark lost. No matter how brave, strong, or clever, the darkness devoured all they had done, and they all lost in the end.

Until now.

Sometime in the1970's, the world changed. In the depths of the world’s soul and somewhere in the human heart, something sparked, flickered, and shone where there had only been darkness. In the hearts of the young and hopeful and brave and foolish, that light grew. The fear and darkness that had dominated mankind slowly, painfully, began to recede.

And the light grew brighter.

It began to shine through the hearts and minds and bodies of those it dwelled in, making their highest dreams come true. That light blazed into the dark, revealing the monsters both human and inhuman that preyed on the innocent. And those young and hopeful and brave and foolish men and women saw those monsters, and began to fight.

And the light grew brighter.

And then one night, it began. A young teen, no longer a girl but not yet a woman, walked home in the dark. The light shone in her heart and energy blazed within her chest. Where she looked, she saw not the empty, dingy streets she walked on but the kind and good city it could be.

On the other side of the road passed a man. As she greeted him, a monster -- some say a vampire, some say a werewolf, others say of something stranger -- attacked him. She ran to the man’s aid, and saw him at the mercy of the terrible monster. The monster snarled and snapped at her, trying to make her run away in fear.

At first, she was afraid. Then hope and love and courage and righteous anger swelled up in her, pushing away the fear. All those emotions, all those dreams, swirled within her. She stood her ground and looked the monster in the eye. At that moment, she did not fear the monster, nor the dark. All she wanted was to do something, anything, and save this man. In that one moment the darkness and fear that had hounded humanity, hounded her, since before history, was gone.

And in that moment, the light blazed forth.

She saw a great kingdom, a perfect land of peace and light.
She saw herself, a guardian and defender of that kingdom.
She saw all her greatest, most noble dreams made reality.

And then she saw the monster again. But she was not the same. She stood an idealized version of herself, changed by that perfect light. She was now a Princess, one of the Hopeful, and illuminated by the Inner Light.

She struck at the monster, driving it back into the dark with her new power. The man she had saved thanked her, and asked her name. She thought, and then gave her answer.

“I am Hope.”

That was over thirty years ago. Now many more have Blossomed and joined the ranks of the Hopeful. They have begun to reach out to each other, combining their lights and dreams and reforming the kingdom they all saw. They bicker and fight and scheme among one another, but they call each other comrades. They don't know exactly what they are fighting, but they know what they are fighting for. They are young, brave, foolish, arrogant, crazy, stupid, innocent, and ignorant.

But most of all, they are Hopeful.

#096 - Cruton Edit

I-65 kills people.

I'm a candy striper at Downtown General and I'm telling you, that stretch of highway is some kind of death trap. More and more people are coming in from crashes there. They're bad crashes, and even the survivors come away mangled. Nobody wants to talk about it, but you can feel it in the air – I-65 is starting to hang over the doctors and nurses like a specter.

I know I'm just a dumb kid, but listen to me.

I can't take my mind off that highway. It's starting to obsess me. Every time I ride over it, I can feel it behind my eyeballs – a seething mess of pain, like my brain's being forced through a wire screen. Even its name gives me goosebumps now, and it makes the floor drop out from my stomach. But I can't forget about it. I even dream about it. I dream that I'm walking down the central line, it's high baking noon, and all those people from the hospital are laid out across the blacktop to bleed in the sun. I've studied the highway. I've followed it in the papers, when inspectors for the city council look it over again and again. They don't want to close it because it's a main artery and they can't find a problem with it, but people are scared by it.

No, I don't tell mom and dad about my dreams. I know I should. It's not normal to have that same dream every night and I always wake up in a panic. I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in two weeks now. But they don't approve of me volunteering at the hospital so much. If they heard this, they'd stop me from going ever again. I can't do that. I need to do my job there. It makes me feel so alive.

I've tried a lot of things to take my mind off of it. I did take a break from the hospital, although I didn't say why – it didn't help anyway. I tried E. I tried reading the Talmud until my eyes bled. I eventually wrote a story about it, thinking I just needed to get it out of my head. I wrote out the few crappy paragraphs and then, still not satisfied, I posted it online.

I put it up right before I went to bed. That night, the dream was different. When I walked across the highway, grass destroyed the asphalt and turned to the whole thing into a field of wild flowers. I had this dress on, this absolutely gorgeous dress, and there was this tame snake wrapped around my arm. I'd touch the snake to people's foreheads, like a wand, and they would smile back up with me. God, I could have dreamed about that moment, when they open their eyes, forever.

In the morning, there was an e-mail, from somebody called Satyavati. She said she read my story about the highway and understood. She sent me arrival information for a bus and told me Nika was coming.

I wish I knew what I just did.
(To Be Continued)

#156 - Huitzil Edit

So. The Kingdom. The Kingdom was a wonderful place. It wasn't a place of impossible perfection, like the mages claim Atlantis was (they are lying), it was the best of all possible worlds. Unhappiness existed, yes, but only because without it joy is meaningless.

The World of Darkness emphasizes the worst in people, and the Kingdom was just the opposite. Mankind was, and is, inherently good. People cared for and helped each other. Society worked like how you dream your favorite political philosophy would work, without having to deal with human nature screwing it up. Sure, there were crimes, and people got sick; but less of each, and those people needed help, and they got it. The Queens and Princes and Princesses ruled by divine mandate that didn't give them the RIGHT to rule, but the RESPONSIBILITY. Power didn't corrupt them; they cared too much for their people. People didn't NEED democracy to have their voiced heard. It's accepted among students of politics that the best system of government is an enlightened, benevolent dictatorship, the only problem is that nobody who would become such a dictator would remain enlightened and benevolent. In the Kingdom, this wasn't a problem. Heck, technically speaking it wasn't even one Kingdom, there were many around the world (explaining how we got so much royalty), but at that point the boundaries of nations didn't really matter.

There were no people cursed with vampirism, there were no mages because Supernal magic didn't exist yet, no half-people laboring to create their own souls, no terrified children abducted into nightmare-realms, no tortured spirits denied an afterlife. There WERE werewolves, but they weren't prone to fits of rage, they regulated a clean and friendly Spirit World and were accorded respect and admiration by the people and spirits they protected. There were monsters, creatures of darkness... but they lost. Evil seeks only to destroy, and goodness builds, and that's why the Power of Love always triumphed.

Until the last time they fought. Until the Cataclysm. Nobody's actually sure what happened -- of the Queens who guide the Hopeful now, five of them were dead by the time of the Cataclysm and can't remember anything specific. The sixth one, the Queen of Tears, is the one who tells her followers that mankind must reach the utter nadir of misery and despair before the Kingdom can return to them, and she NEVER, EVER talks about what she saw. While the Hopeful don't have a lot of facts, they have been able to surmise a few things.

First, and most obvious, the Cataclysm was horrible beyond imagining. It was the ultimate power play of what they call the Great Darkness, a phrase they can use to easily refer to "all the forces of evil and badness in the world." As evil cannot build, only destroy, it could never defeat everything that goodness and love had built up and expect it to stick. Its only option was to try and prevent goodness and light from building anything at all. The Catclysm was so great and terrible, it could be seen as having "rebooted" the universe, starting it all over in a great cosmic cycle. As the universe restarted, the Great Darkness essentially attempted to kneecap the Inner Light of hope at the starting line. The physical world was literally coated in darkness and evil to prevent the Light from shining through and gaining anything.

That's why the world is so messed up, so Dark now -- because we've had Yin with no Yang (or Yang with no Yin, I forget how it goes). The inner goodness of all humankind still exists, but it's in a constant state of near-suffocation under all the world's darkness and despair. There have been two times that the darkness has broken, and the light was allowed to shine through. The first put and end to the nightmarish realm of insanity created after the fall of the Kingdom , where hope and love meant nothing and the strong visited limitless punishment and depredations over the weak, altering their bodies, minds, fortunes, and souls simply because they had the power to do so, sublimating physical reality to their poisoned will. One of the mage-gods who ruled over the world had a change of heart and tore away a great strip of the darkness blotting out the world, sealing away the hellish Abyss that mages inflict on the world, and allowing our world to repair itself to a level that physics and matter actually worked in a sensible way again.
Then, history progressed, and the inner light of humanity did its best, but its gains were meager and always threatened by darkness, despair, depravity, malice. The second time that the darkness was broken and the Light allowed to shien through, it was entirely by accident. When the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the Moon, it gained the intention of some vast, nameless, formless Thing, and the manifest darkness followed the little craft back to Earth to visit pain and fear upon its inhabitants... but in its absence, now there was no great darkness blotting out that area of the universe, and the Light, shrouded for so very long, began to shine again from the Moon, and got its chance to join the restarted cosmic cycle in earnest. This is why the Moon is so important to the Hopeful, why it gives them their powers, their visions, and their hope. The shroud of darkness doesn't cover the Moon any more, and it is from the Moon that the light of hope is allowed to shine, and with this light, the Princess will cast away the darkness, supernatural and mundane, suffocating man for so long. And you may say she's a dreamer... but she's not the only one.

#174 - Huitzil Edit

So. Cosmology.

An important thing to remember, to stay in-genre, is that The Power of Love conquers all. In a fair fight between Good and Evil, Good wins every single time. Evil, pure evil, the kind living entirely in that supernatural other-space the Princesses call the Great Darkness and others call the Abyss or Arcadia, loses because of a very simple flaw: It cannot create anything. It can only destroy or try and pervert that which goodness has built. The True Fae are a great example of this: they take people and they CHANGE them to be like themselves because they cannot have their own children, they take human society and they try to copy it but they can't get it right because they don't understand what it is to MAKE something.

Originally -- before even the Kingdom was built, when mankind first came into being -- there was Light, and there was the Great Darkness, and they were an equal distance from the world. And that was good, because even the Hopeful recognize that light cannot exist without shadow, that pleasure is nothing to those who never feel pain, that joy is meaningless without sadness... but the shadows were much smaller, the pain much less frequent, the sadness far more shallow. Light and Darkness were in balance, in a sense, yet Light dominated everything because it could do so much that darkness could not. And the Darkness, due to its very nature, hated that. It seethed with impotent rage. It never stopped trying to pervert and break down everything the Light could build, and inevitably met with failure. It couldn't make any of its own followers, just twist things that already existed -- every servant of the Darkness is descended in some fashion from something that was originally good. The humans it gave power to became dark wizards, able to bring the Darkness with them, inflict that senselessness on the world (this is a reversal of what I said before, there have to have been Supernal mages during the Kingdom, so there were).

But the minions of darkness never made much progress in their efforts, and as often as not, the servitors who were corrupted by the Darkness could be redeemed right back to the side of goodness as soon as they came into contact. Darkness was committed to a war it could not only never win, but never even make progress in. It just could not tear down faster than Light could build.

So, somehow, it decided the only option was to get a cosmic do-over and strangle Light from the start so it could never build up a significant lead. It wouldn't get rid of it entirely, because then it would have nothing to destroy, but it would cripple it so grievously it had no chance to win. And with the Cataclysm, it did exactly that. Two entities in the universe know how it happened, the Darkness itself and the Queen of Tears, and neither of them have ever let slip so much as a hint about it.

Mankind is inherently good, EVERYTHING is inherently good, because Darkness can't make anything to be inherently bad. Everyone has the potential for redemption (And everyone has the potential to be reborn, too, meaning that while killing something is still something the Hopeful really don't like to do, they can kill things that are too far from redemption to reasonably deal with as a way of putting it off until later. Hopefully when the corrupted thing gets reborn, the world will be in a better position to help it). All it really is is helping people out from under the blanket of choking darkness shrouding the light of their souls.

It's useful as shorthand to say the Reborn has two souls, their modern soul and their Kingdom soul, but it's not really accurate. The Reborn have one soul, and the awful darkness strangling the world has left most people with around 40% of a soul with no room for it to grow to normal size. There's no actual way to measure the number, that's just the guess the Queen of Diamonds made, but she's pretty good with numbers. Lifting that darkness from the person's spirit lets their inner light grow to the intensity it was always supposed to be.

So while it may seem sometimes that a Princess has another person inside her, she doesn't. She's aware of exactly who she could be if she could live up to her truest potential, and the differences between that identity and who she is now. A Princess who has an argument with her "perfected soul" about whather a course of action is right or not isn't bickering with a psychic entity, she's wrestling with her own conscience. Your reborn soul won't say that the modern music you listen to is stupid because she lived in a world where it didn't exist, but she will say so if deep down YOU think its stupid and you've convinced yourself otherwise to fit in. To live like your reborn soul is to live the best life that you know you can live, to spurn her is to do something you know is wrong and rationalize it away anyway. High-Belief Princesses are nearly always in total synch with their reborn souls, gaining their knowledge and abilities more easily and more extensively, while low-Belief Princesses are constantly smothering the part of them that KNOWS they are working evil.
The Queens themselves weren't able to be reborn in the world -- the way Diamonds explains it is that their spirits were too big to fit through the hole, but cautions that it's really way more complicated than that -- but they have found a place in a dreamed half-recollection of the Kingdom in the Temenos, the realm of all humanity's shared dreams. They aren't actually a hundred percent sure that they ARE the Queens, and not very long-lasting dreams of them that were just recently reawakened, because Temenos is totally outside their experience. The Astral Realm didn't even exist in the time of the Kingdom, and the Hopeful are convinced it only exists now because the dreams of mankind have been so smothered in reality they started growing out in a different direction. They aren't sure if it will go away when they bring the Kingdom back or not, but some argue it can be a useful means to bring hope back, and some Princesses do their work primarily in the Temenos, mending the dreams of all Mankind.

#175 - inklesspen Edit

"For one shining moment, each of us saw the city, a glittering jewel under the moonlight, a city that held the soul of all the world. We saw that which was, and might be again, and then the vision faded. But the understanding remained. We found each other, for we can all recognize those who have seen the city. Together we fight to reclaim joy, together we work to rebuild hope. And together we call back the soul of the city and make it real once again."

#289 - inklesspen Edit

I want to talk about "Fighting Fear".

Even in the World of Darkness, it's rare for fear to be part of a supernatural plot. It's just part of the cost of living in a broken world. It starts with a little thing, worry or doubt, and given the reinforcement the world is all too happy to provide, it grows into something that holds you down and strangles you. It's hope turned inside out. And it's what the Princesses are meant to confront. It's a hard job. You need to spend time with people, care about them and support them in their weaknesses, encourage and share in their joys. In one sense, it's living life as if the Kingdom had never fallen (and when the world just isn't good enough to support happiness, making up the difference with love, determination, and sacrifice). It's fulfilling your Virtue, day in and day out, and most of the time it's easy, nothing worthy of any special praise. But now and then the weight of the world crashes down harder. Now and then you have to give up something that really matters so you can make a better world. And you don't always get back what you sacrificed. But in the end it's worth it anyway.
So that's most of the time. That's what you're there for. But sometimes darkness strikes in a more personal manner. A Dark General shows up as a substitute teacher at your high school, and you can't help but notice the people in his class are more on edge, quicker to get angry, and slower to forgive. A Libertine commits crimes in the persona of his progenitor and eventually you spot that the same person is in two different places, and you have to put a stop to it. It's important to be aware of these events and be able to keep darkness from gaining a greater foothold in the world. It absolutely is necessary that these things be fought. But, and this is important, you are not fighting them for the sake of fighting them. You are fighting them because they are trying to ruin the hope you're building in the people around you. You must be sure to remember that building hope in people is your purpose. And _that_ is why the Queen of Tears is wrong and why her plan could never work.

#341 - Cruton Edit

"--Chinese troops moved into numerous cities and villages of the Xinjiang province today, as the fifth straight day of ethnic riots continued for several hours. Despite the enforcement of a federal curfew, troops and rioters skirmished in several locations and casualties were reported as troops fired into the crowds. Beijing urged its citizens to cooperate with authorities during the round-up of ring leaders--"

"--believed to be Mexican immigrants who crossed the border illegally. The bodies were found out in the desert, severely burned and left in the open. Forensic experts believe that the victims were alive with the fires were set. The police have not released other information about potential suspects, but would like to assure the community that this crime will receive their utmost attention, regardless of nationality. A spokesman for the Minutemen militia criticized the investigation, saying that the real way to prevent future tragedies would be to strengthen the border itself--"

"--a recent report made by the Russian Medical Society suggested that hospital supplies of prescription drugs have been severely depleted by resale on the black market. Names were not named, but the RMS urged the government to make investigation of illegal drug sales a top priority--"

"--I have seen Jesus and I tell you, he is a hermaphrodite and he has blood nipples and when you drink of his blood nipples, your mind is opened. Jesus did not mean for us to marry women. He intends for us to harvest woman and use their unique organs to complete ourselves. Women have no souls and should not be trusted to carry male children to term. It is the instinct of all women to have abortions, all the time, at the drop of the hat, and I have reports made by the CIA prior to Roe vs. Wade that feminists have unprotected sex as often as possible just so they can enjoy an abortion, a sensation for them a hundred times better than cocaine--"

"--neighbors did nothing as the young boy was torn to death by feral dogs, right outside their windows. Although the city was aware of the dog pack rooming the streets for some time, they were ruled as no threat to law abiding citizens. Questions are now being raised about the possibility of a rabies outbreak--"

"--no word yet from authorities as the siege of the New Dawn Recreation Society compound remains at a stalemate. A third kidnapee was released today, but only to immediately commit suicide like the previous two--"

"--by drinking a bottle of bleach. Relatives say she believed the Large Hadron Collider would destroy the world--"

"--what Manson believed was that one day, the black citizens of the United States would rise up as one and slay the white population. He called this event Helter Skelter and he and his followers dedicated themselves to hastening its coming. Manson believed that once the revolution ended, he could emerge from hiding and use his superior white intelligence to claim power. I know the mainstream media machine would say this is tasteless, but we asked President Obama today to provide a comment on an Manson's beliefs--"

"--Viktorson ate the eyeballs of his victims. He said in court today that this gave him access to their credit card numbers--"

"--here's one for you, Rick. Have you ever heard of a practice called degloving--?"

"--for pennies a day, you can feed a starving child. Malnutrition is the most serious problem and some are so crippled by it, they couldn't support themselves even if the opportunity presented itself. All we need are funds for bread, water purifiers, and basic vitamin supplements, to give this poor people even just a chance at life. Thousands will die in just the next hour and all we need are pennies--"

"--is it just me or have we lost our way as a people? Didn't the world used to be a better? Weren't people kinder? Gentler? Didn't they look out for each other? I remember, when I was just a boy, people smiled at each other. Now they're likely to twist a bottle in your face if you even say 'hello'. Everybody says the problem is that the nation is becoming like San Francisco, but I think it's that we're becoming more like New York. We don't notice each other anymore. We don't think it's safe to care. The moment we show any weakness -- you know, basic human decency -- the vultures rip us to shreds. Everybody argues about abortions, but nobody notices we've become a society where motherhood is a punishment. Young homosexual boys and girls wake up confused about their place in creation and people's first reactions are to say, 'Don't get none on me!' Our health care is so bad that agencies set up to help the third world have become bogged down with things to do right here. The rich get richer and the poor are rapidly running out of reasons to give a damn about John Smith or Karl Marx. People don't have hope anymore. People have lost hope. And do you know what changed? We are no longer the sole country is possession of nuclear weapons--"

"--HIV is a lie--"

"--global warming is a scam--"

"--nail the Pope's head to the sidewalk and take a shit the size of a birthday cake--"

"--where are your children, do you trust them--"

"--screams in the night--"

"--speaking in tongues--"

"--bullets are useless--"

"--God is dead, we have killed him--"

"--and on a lighter note, what do you get when you cross a puppy with a rabbit? More after the break."


"The Future and I," Betsy Miller read the title with confidence. She paused, smiled at the class, and continued. "No doubt, the future will be an exciting place. With new cures for diseases, we can expect to all live several hundred years. New manufacturing methods will make clothes and houses available to all, regardless of income. New technology will work with the environment, instead of destroying it. Our united global economy will make war a thing of the past. Education will be a basic human right, not a luxury. And we'll all look like movie stars. We hope."

Laughter rippled through the class room. Mr. Placencio hushed the students, but even he couldn't hide his chuckle. Kim smiled as Betsy went on. "The truth is, we can't expect that much from tomorrow. The world isn't made up of equations. You can't just change the math and then everything works right. The future won't be defined by one person, a genius or a leader or a general, being the hero. It will be defined by us. All of us. The best thing we can do for a better future is to live a responsible life now and pay it forward. It won't be a miracle that saves the world, but statistics. With that in mind, I want to study health education and management--"

Kim hung onto Betsy's every word. She always thought this was something magnetic about the other girl, some pull of personality that set her apart from the rest. She knew she wasn't the only one who felt that way, although it seemed she was always the one getting teased about his "crush". (By guys who'd later line up to beg Betsy to come with them to the formal.) Still, she didn't mind. Betsy certainly didn't mind. She always made time for Kim, even though the shorter girl knew she could be a little clingy at times. But how could you not cling to Betsy? She smile was always dazzling, her answers were always insightful, she seemed to have a talent for every occasion. Betsy Miller was, for lack of a better word, perfect. She was magical.

Mr. Placencio let them go for the day, after Kim gave her own embarrassing presentation. ("Dermatologists make more than regular doctors.") She felt like curling up in a perfect sphere and rolling into the river, when Kim heard that angelic voice call out behind her. Betsy came running up to meet her, hastily waving goodbye to those other girls she usually hung out with. Kim was shocked when Betsy grabbed her by the arm.

"Where are you going, Wonder Girl?" She chortled. "You look like someone just ate your dog and fricasseed your cat."

Kim smiled back weakly. She hoped that blush she felt wasn't obvious. "I-I'm fine. Just a little bummed about that Mr. Placencio's grade. It's cool. Don't worry."

"Nonsense. I'm putting a little spring back in your step, even if it kills me." Without a second thought, Betsy tugged Kim along to the bus stop. Kim wasn't complaining, only still off balance. "Let's go the mall. You need to clear your head."

It did clear Kim's head, but a full half an hour of Skip-Beat Megathon will do that to anyone who wasn't psychotic. Egged on by Besty, Kim found herself swapping jokes and gleefully exploring the shops, even as sweaty and tired as she was from the arcade. It wasn't normal. Even at her best, Kim was always the type to fade into the background. A permanent audience for her friends. It was odd, how Betsy seem to draw her out of herself. It was like she knew some secrete code that turned on the other Kim. Not that Kim thought about it that way. She was enjoying herself too much, so much that almost didn't notice when Betsy stopped in front of the news crawl by the food court.

"-the fifth in a series of the missing children leave police baffled. A hot line has been set-up to receive any tips our viewers may have about Joshua Stone-" Bright yellow numbers crawled along the bottom of the screen while an old birthday photo of a smiling little boy stared out silently. Betsy stood, studying the photo, face impassive and focused. Kim, after much sudden trepidation, was about to say something when the story switched. "Councilman Campbell today testified today that he never ordered police officers to target ex-girlfriend Valarie Kesinki at a traffic stop on I-89-"

"Oh. Oh, yeah, that." Kim tried to re-strike the conversation. "My dad told me about that guy. He says he's as crooked as they come. No guilt at all."

"Huh. At all?" Betsy remained stoic.

"Well, I just mean, he's a jerk-"

"That's a shame. For a politician." A smile crept back up Betsy's face. He gestured to the Orange Julius. She gave a wink. "Somebody ought to talk to him."

"But, anyway," They took a table, drinks in hand. Betsy had something to ask Kim. "Were you really so bummed about your presentation, earlier? I don't think Mr. Placencio had that much of a problem with it. He didn't have his 'flunk you' face on at all."

"I know, I know... I mean, he's not going to give me an A, but it's not that bad. It's just... God, were you even listening to me up there?" Kim sighed. "It was all stupid stuff. I don't know what I'm doing. I thought it was just some stupid assignment, but now that I've had time to think about it, now that I've heard everybody else's -- since I heard yours -- I'm just... ashamed."

"Kim, not everybody knows what they're going to rest do for the rest of their lives-"

"I know that." Kim cut Betsy off. Somehow, the effort made her wince. She didn't notice the flicker of surgical concern in Betsy's eyes. "But why not? Why can't I be better? Why can't I just be, just a little bit, a decent person? What's wrong with me?"

Without meaning to, Kim slapped the side of her head. Betsy's eyes darted from side to side, afraid they were attracting attention. She was quick not to let Kim go any further. She took a firm, but gentle hold of Kim's offending hand. "Blaming yourself isn't the way to be a better person, Kim. It's not... let me put it this way. It's patience. Knowing how to be good is easy. Having patience with yourself when you screw up in the hard part."

"But I'm nothing but a fuck-up..." Kim dejectedly mumbled.

"Patience." Betsy gave Kim's hand a squeeze. Kim looked up into Betsy's eyes and saw concern, a hurt sense of responsibility, a hint of fright. It almost looked like Betsy was the one blaming herself, not Kim. Like a kid who shoved his friend down the stairs and could only watch the other child cry in pain, not quite processing how a game turned into something so horrible. Kim thought she was imagining things; Betsy wasn't the problem here.

"Tell you what." Betsy broke the moment. "Let's do that assignment over."

"But it's--"

"Screw grades. It's obviously gotten to you. So this is just for us, now." Betsy's face was regaining some of its radiance. "We'll both write it over again. Then we'll get together Saturday and we'll talk it over. Just the two of us. And this time, you'll think about it, honestly, instead of just blowing it off -- like you did, when you were just doing it to get it done -- you'll really think about it. I think you'll be surprised by the answer. I think you're a better person than you give yourself credit for. You just... waste a lot of energy, getting down on yourself."


"No maybe. Patience, girl. Nothing but patience." Betsy's smile was back to where it usually was, wonderful and charming. She held it, rigor-esque, trying to think of something else to say. "I believe in you."

When she got home, Kim fell on her pillow and cried. It was the first time someone said that that she really believed it.
To Be Continued....

#344 - Cruton Edit

Green Tara sailed in softly over the walls of Drapchi. Maintained and staffed by the Chinese military, the prison was possibly the most infamous in Tibet. The compound was a charnel house of the soul. The so-called goddess circled through the night air, tempted to flee the hellish miasma, before steeling her soul and gliding into the shadows of the courtyard. Invisible poisons and psychic claws tore at her mind and body. The only thing protecting her sanity, like a shell, were the swirling wisps of magic she had collected across the countryside along with the photos, letters, and momentos wrapped in her pack. She clung to those stray bits of holy fire tighter than any child ever held its mother. She knew in a few hours she would be without their comfort.

A wave of her wand and the guards, suddenly and mysteriously irresponsible, quiet lay down on the ground and went to sleep. She was individually more powerful than any single army unit and Green Tara could still only curse how weak she was. If only she could say the word that would make all the soldiers, the whole Red Army, throw down their arms and become monks. Or call for the walls and gates to rise up like a single giant and tear its own guts open. Or a bit less kind, wash the whole complex clean with fire and bloody and screaming demons. Drapchi held an innumerable hoard of the unjustly and politically imprisoned, all subject to the cruel needs and whimsy of the Party. People came here to disappear and die. It was possible to live out your sentence, but only through supreme will and luck. From the cries that rose from the prisoners at the sight of her, Green Tara knew too many needed both.

Her wings dissolved from her the minute her heels scraped the ground. Green Tara landed in a run and charmed three more guards before pulling the key cards and keys off of one. These were not perfect break-ins. The authorities knew of her and the prisoners would be punished because she came. But they didn't care. They wanted to hear from their families, to send back their own messages and know there was something worth living for. And more than that, they wanted her magic. Some needed medical attention. Others needed their sanity. There was no end to the call for Green Tara's power, no matter how tempted she was to keep it to herself.

Tonight, she would only help a handful of those who needed her. Then, exhausted and weak and sick with the aura of the prison, she'd have just enough magic to effect her own silent-but-narrow escape, beating a flight back over the walls just seconds ahead of soldiers her weakened wand could no longer hold. Then she had to go by foot over the wilderness, with a normal girl's abilities to avoid the patrols and find shelter. If she survived long enough to find a friendly house back in civilization, it would be back to the road with her. That strange little girl by the highway, wrapped in discarded clothes, clutching a shiv under her jacket because she dared not waste a drop of the magic needed for nights like this. Lien-Hua would walk Tibet by herself, delivering messages, spreading news, collected missives, and hoarding the warm embers of happiness and love wherever she could find them.
Of course she missed Beijing. Who wouldn't miss their family?''

#534 - Cruton Edit

Detective Armenteros pinched the bridge of her nose and waved goodbye to Coolidge for the night. Two in the morning in December in Seattle -- a instant coffee, Maria had long since decided, was a sign you had accepted you were in hell. She stalked out of the police station into the blustering cold, tugging her overcoat around her neck protectively, cussing in three different languages. Four different reports on the 'Golden Siren' made in the last week and each one was like pulling teeth. No mind the shattered glass, the busted electronics, the popped bottled and broken eardrums, even the occasional missing person who followed in the urban legand's wake -- every credible witness Armenteros got a face-to-face with acted like they had just received a blowjob from Jesus and a reach-around from Elvis. Not that tracking down the one woman militia was Maria's job any more. She just received the news.

No, now she was just in charge of handling the death threats coming into the department over the whole thing.

Whoever the Siren was -- some militia, a gang, a crazy, or a mass hallucination -- she showed up in the city rumor mill last fall. There were a few jokes here and there about comic books and then suddenly, all the evidence they could ever want to crack a series of ritualistic murders that had bothered the department for thirty years landed in the their collective lap, along with an unusual corpse blocking a water main. A sex cult got broken up. A neo-nazi militia turned themselves in. Those weird jade chess pieces stopped popping up around the Space Needle. In a hurry, Seattle suddenly got a lot more weird, then a lot less. Someone flushed out a whole underworld the police knew nothing about. But it didn't stop there. First, the suspected drug dealers. Then, the white collar criminals. Unpopular city councilmen. Troubled youths. The Golden Siren took Seattle in her hand and squeezed it until anything she didn't approve of dribbled out. And she was getting a lot of good press for it.

Still grumbling, Maria ducked into the parking garage and hunted down her old clunker. Her foot hit a bottle, sending it skittering off into the shadows. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed it was a Jarritos. She hadn't had one of those since--

A warm breeze struck the back of her neck. Blinking, Maria Armenteros looked at a cheerful noonday sun. The ocean beat on the beach nearby, lapping at glittering white sands, complimenting the cool swish of tall grass behind her. The breeze carried assylum and salt, whipping the two scents together like a mad chief. Something was wrong here, Maria's mind hazily registered. Off in the distance, that was her grandmother's house. But her grandmother's house was in Florida. Florida was a long way and a long time aways.

"Detective?" Maria spun, not noticing that the dress that fluttered around her was a sized-up version of the one she wore for Confirmation. The girl sat in an lone nearby tree. She looked like some overgrown Barbie doll -- too perfect, too smooth, too still. But her eyes sparkled with life and the kind of mischief Maria had trained out of herself when she buckled down about her job. And that smirk, like someone who had waited a long, long time to finally solve a problem they had been angry about. In that lily white tunic, with golden armor, with that stylized music note hair clip holding back lime green locks. Something about this impish girl made Maria just pissed enough to keep her focus.


"Yes. Kinda. I never picked that name. But I like it." The Siren laughed. "And I like you, Detective. That's why we're long overdue for a chat."

#1351 : Thread 2 - sun_tzuEdit


Sandy looked up. "Gail?" Small world. She hadn't seen Gail in months. She'd been rather scarce this year, ever since...

"I heard you were having a bad week. I thought I'd show up, see if, y'know..."

"I...thanks." Sandy gestured at the chair next to her.

Gail sat down. "So..."

"It's...I'm fine, really, I'm..." She didn't want to start throwing her drama at Gail, but even so, she felt herself getting choked up a bit.

"Hey, it's OK. We're friends, remember? You can tell me."

"I got fired." she finally relented. "I can barely afford college as is, and now I got fired. I thought I could find a solution, something, ANYTHING - I was actually looking into selling the car. Piece of junk, I know, but it would still cover the rent for the rest of the year. But..." She paused. "They burned it. Some bastards torched my car in the middle of the night. It wasn't even that bad a neighborhood, and..." She started sobbing. "I don't know what to DO!"

Gail hugged her, offering words of comfort. "It's going to be all right, Sandy. Those things always seem like the end of the world, but they're not."

"I know, but...I'm sorry. It's just been such a shitty week."

"Been there."

"What do you..." She stopped herself. She knew what Gail meant.

The latter nodded. "After what happened to Bruce... Well, I felt a lot like you're feeling now. Like all was lost, and there was no point anymore. Well, I got over it. I know you can."

"I don't know," Sandy admitted. In a way, she felt guilty for not spending more time with Gail. The girl had drifted apart from their circle of friends after Bruce.

"Well, I do." Gail said forcefully. "When life stomps on you, and gives you nothing but pain, you don't break down - you turn the pain into a strength. You grow from it. You turn it to your advantage."

Seeing Sandy's confused expression, she took her hand. "I've got a group of friends. We meet every now and then to talk about this stuff. Those guys...they all lost something, and they all bounced back. How 'bout I introduce you? I think it'd do you a world of good to talk about all this."

And so, Sandy found herself attending meetings with Gail's friends. As she learned, they called themselves the "Broken Dreams Society" - a fitting name, as she soon learned: All had suffered, some far more than her. But they offered her smiles and sympathy, which she was in dire need of.

"See, it's like this," a guy called Jake was explaining, "when I was a kid, I LOVED that 'Sir Braveheart' cartoon. In every episode, he'd save the day, rescue Damsel Dina, and force the evil wizard to flee. Rinse, repeat. You know the drill."

"Yeah, sure."

"But then, at some point... I no longer found it satisfying. I think I was eleven. See, what bothered me was...Every episode had a happy ending."


"Well...It was OK when I was little...But at some point, it started seeming stupid. Like the writers didn't respect our intelligence or something. I was old enough to know real life wasn't like that, so it annoyed me to only see such a sugar-coated image. So I started showing interest in more mature shows and books - ones that weren't afraid to be more realistic."

"Yeah, I see what you mean. But it's normal to have kids' shows be happy, no? I mean, the Smurfs would have tanked if Gargamel killed them all."

"Well, yeah. But you can't STAY a kid all your life, y'know?"


"I mean, think about it. Why are so many of the best stories in the world tragedies?"

"Beg your pardon?"

"Take Romeo and Juliet. Take Titanic. Take every play, movie, novel, or whatever, that had a sad ending. Why do we WATCH these things? Why watch something that makes us sad? Because the sadness is REAL. It's LIFE. And if you pretend that your life is all just happy-happy joy-joy, then your life ends up just the shallow, hollow shell of a cartoon."

"It isn't about pain so much as about OVERCOMING it," Gail was explaining. It had been another week, and Sandy was spending more and more at the Broken Dreams'...clubhouse? Compound? Whatever. "The idea is, you learn how to deal with it. If you can cause yourself a little pain, and take it standing, then you'll find it easier to keep your shit when life throws you serious curveballs."

"I get the idea," said Sandy, as she used her right hand to tighten the mechanism, increasing the pressure on her left hand. She winced. It wasn't torture, but it certainly wasn't pleasant. But...she could take it. And there was some satisfaction in that.

"Not bad." Gail said in an appreciative tone. "I didn't manage to go quite that far on my first time." That wasn't true, but really, after torching Sandy's car, what was a little white lie?

"And I was listening to the senator's speech, and he reached that part about life, freedom, the pursuit of happiness and all that junk," Sandy was telling Jake, "and I was thinking: What a load of bull. I mean, yeah, sure, democracy and stuff, ra ra ra, yay. But the pursuit of happiness... What, did he really think that us voting for him was going to make us happy? Hell no. He just wanted US to think that. It's so... calculated. Happiness? For him, it was just a cynical ploy to get votes."

"Exactly. And it's not just politicians. The whole WORLD is set up like that."

"I know! They're all counting on you to be stupid and keep the rose-colored glasses on while they brainwash you into their bullshit stupid views."

"Dreams as drugs."

"Dreams are for suckers."

"Preach it, sister."

No sound. Hard as it was, Sandy was taking pride in making no sound as she subjected herself to yet another electric shock.


It was PAIN.

Most importantly? It was REAL.

Because, yes, a person was, ultimately, their pain. Your suffering defined you, made you grow as a person, built your character. Joy, happiness, and all of that was just fluff - spiritual junk food. Junk that the world would use to manipulate you, make you another easily-controlled sheep.

And Sandy was no sheep, no. She was REAL. She deliberately sought out the pain, making herself stronger and stronger. She no longer cared for illusions such as "dreams", "love", "family" - that was for the sheep.

She was Sandy.

She was in pain.

She was real.

She was a good student of the Broken Dreams. And she looked forward to teaching others.

Outtake: Welcome - Michael Brazier Edit

"Milady, the vessel is ready to depart."

Opal picked up the smaller suitcase, leaving the larger for the knight bachelor to carry. As she followed him into the basements of the redoubt, she speculated: what sort of vessel did her new allies use to reach their secret base? A flying saucer? A digging machine? A transporter pad, like on Star Trek?

Then the last door opened, and she saw it. A ... boat. A large dory, in fact, fifteen feet from bow to stern, with lanterns hanging at both ends, burning a greenish-yellow flame. It floated, rocking slightly, in an enclosed pool just large enough to hold it. Opal stopped at the entrance, blinking at the oddity of finding a boat two stories underground. The gray-clad, white-haired lieutenant stood up in the boat and beckoned. With a shake of her head, Opal hurried after the bachelor, who hadn't stopped when she did. Once on board, with the luggage stowed, she inquired: "This is the vessel?"

"Yes, milady. Sit forward, if you please, and steel yourself for the opening of the passage. It is a great ordeal, but fortunately a short one; a few moments only." At a command in that foreign language the knights used among themselves, the boat's crew took up the oars; the lieutenant breathed in, then out, and with careful controlled gestures snuffed the stern lantern, then the bow lantern -- just as Opal realized that the room they floated in had no other lights. The lieutenant's voice rang in the pitch darkness, again in the foreign tongue; Opal's ear caught the phrase that meant "ever flowing", and realized he was praying. What was he expecting, that scared him so? Then a dim, green light welled up past the bow, and the lieutenant fell silent.

"Oh! Is that the danger?"

"No, milady." The lieutenant relit the lanterns, and seemed puzzled. "The ordeal is over now. You are courageous beyond my experience, to take it so lightly."

"But --" Opal's voice faltered as the boat's surroundings were lit. They were no longer in the basement. The boat floated now in an underground lake within a cave of black rock; the light she'd seen before was its entrance. The oars dipped, the boat slid forward and out, and Opal gasped.

It was not the harbor, full of boats, towards which they now rowed that startled her, or the city of ancient stone buildings and green street lamps behind it. It wasn't even the palace above the city, though that was meant to draw the eye, picked out by purple beacons at the tips of its towers. What amazed her was the lack of a horizon. Both the land before her, and the water behind her, bent upward into the dark clouded sky. And looking up, through the clouds, Opal saw that what seemed, at first, to be stars above the clouds were actually distant buildings, hanging inverted from a sky spotted with islands.

The rowers rested; the dory halted by a dock. "Welcome to Alhambra, milady. The Queen waits for you."

#1510 : Thread 2 - EarthScorpion Edit

First Steps

You would know my story, gatekeeper? Certainly.

My name is Eniaka. My mother was Inasha. Her mother was Qaeshatu. Her mother was also named Qaeshatu. And so on, and so on, until we reach back seventeen generations, to Eniasha, who was one of the brides of Yang, of Han, one of the Light-Bearers attendant to her Majesty, but born in the Rebellious Provinces, who sired my ancestor upon her.

I shall not bore you will the full recitation of my lineage, though my great-grandmother would be furious if she knew.

Since birth, I have known the glory and imperium of Her Majesty, the Ever-Flowing. How could I not have? It is by her will that the flames burn, that the things of the terrible Darkness are slain, and that the Glorious Dominion, the Kingdom of Light, is maintained. Outside the Glorious Dominion, in the Rebellious Provinces, the monsters of shadow stalk the streets, for the rebels there do not know how to construct the lights that hold them off, while monsters of clay and flesh and fire lead those erring subjects of Her Majesty in base treachery. Our city is the last remnant of sanity and reason in a mad world.

I have served my time on the lamplighters, and acquitted myself with satisfaction; more than the boy who was torn apart by the things of the terrible Darkness that arose in a dark district, and I watched and cheered as our carer drove off the monster that looked like his shadow. I have mastered the tenses and the intrictate masteries of our writings; I am not some failure who ends up on the fisheries, or the street cleaners. Until this honour was passed to me, I was a perfectly content functionary in a minor remembrance guild, my days filled with thoughts of the dead, and my evening with trying to get Tammus, the attractive boy with those lovely eyes, who lives in the apartment block opposite to us, and has a tendency to change with the shutters open, to pay attention to me rather than that harlot from the fisheries who shamelessly degrades herself and her family (such that exists for one such as her) over him.

I am thus utterly, utterly terrified, sir, now that I must leave the safety of this place for the degeneracy outside. But I am a loyal citizen... no, indeed, now I am sworn to her, bestowed the secret wisdoms which Her Majesty bestows upon those who can better serve her through action, though the honour is more than I ever expected, and so I will do my duty, such as is necessary for the survival of the Light of the World.

I can remember the day that I first found that I had been selected for this honour and duty. It was the hour of waking, as the bells chimed all along the Way of Supplication for the fifth time, and I was shaken awake by my great-grandmother.

"Get up, you lazy girl!" she said. "Wake up, Inasha, wake up."

I opened my eyes, and rolled off my mat, already scrambling for my clothes. The hour of waking is always accompanied with the blessings of Her Majesty, and too-frequently clothes left on the ground get wet if you leave the window open, as I am prone to do. "I am Eniaka, great-grandmother," I told her, respectfully (as is proper), as I do every morning. "Isasha is my mother."

She frowned at me, as she does every morning. "Oh," she said, her lips pursed, before she seemed to resettle her face. "Make sure you eat properly," she continued. "You know that people who don't eat their fishies fall in the water, and get eaten by the fishies, and so never grow up big and strong."

"Yes, great-grandmother," I replied, as I pulled on my under-shirt. "I am twenty-two years of age, and I do not think I shall grow again, but I shall certainly eat up."

She squinted at me through her clouded eyes. "Good girl," she said finally, raking my hair back with a skeletal hand, face contorted with the effort. "Make sure the lights are lit properly, and your good-for-nothing mother hasn't let them go out again. I don't know how I could have a daughter like that, I really don't."

I did not say anything, though it is no longer my duty to check the lamps, and has not been so for almost eight years; it is my elder brother's second child's task now. He shall be serving on the lamplighters soon, and we must ensure that he is practised, or the disgrace shall be such that even my promotion to this task shall not be enough to outweigh the acrimony that we shall accrue.

"Yes, great-grandmother," I said.

"And how about a kiss for me?" she added. I leant in, and my lips brushed through the slightly wet feeling air, before turning to leave, now fully clad.

"Make sure you pray at my stone!" she called down the stairs. Great-grandmother is very insistent about that; failure to respect the dead dishonours the family, she says.

Sadly, I was already running late, for I had overslept, and so I could no more than grab some kelp-bread from the pantry before I was out of the door, and running down the street, the pavements slippery from the blessings of Her Majesty. Already, my stomach knew that it would be regretting this by the hour of rectitude, but it was far better that I suffer from lack of food than I be late.

With the greatest misfortune, though, I was already too late, for the Way of Luminous Fortitude had already been sealed off, for the parades, and already the masses of the departed had gathered to watch. It is terrible manners to mistreat the respected dead, and, worse, I was close enough to home that I would be recognised.

Nevertheless, such a thing was worth the risk, and, should I be seen, I could at least try to argue that my duties as a remembrancer are of such importance that I would be remiss to not take such an action. After all, all know that the dead do value their memory, for it is akin to food and drink for them.

I had chosen my deeds. My path was set. With a jump to the left, I grabbed the nearest window on the narrow street, and began to climb. Though my shoes were unsuitable, it was not hard; I had climbed much harder things back when I was a lamplighter, and this path, so close to a major way, was thankfully well lit. Panting slightly from the exertion, I pulled myself up to the roof. Yes, the roofs here were just as narrow as I had remembered. With but a leap, I might be able to launch myself clean across the gap, and thus go on to my duties with the minimum of delay. Better yet, the honoured dead watching from up here was far fewer, so there was less chance of being recognised, or dishonouring them.

With a proper run up, such a jump was easy, despite the slight drop, and I landed cleanly, managing not to drop my bag, and, ignoring the shouts from the honoured dead, I continued on my path, dropping down to the nearest roof, and using the guttering, which was still slick from the blessings of Her Majesty, to lower myself further down, before breaking into a full sprint.

And that was when I ran into her. She merely stood there, tapping a foot, with an amused look on her face. From the colour of her skin, darker than almost any born in the Glorious Dominion, and the way she had one of the Seneschals, clad all in the blue, grey and purple of the direct servants of Her Majesty the Ever Flowing, standing beside her, I knew that I was in deep trouble.

I merely stood before her, head lowered, waiting for my punishment.

"What will be a matter?" she said, in halting and broken, rather formal words, merely confirming my suspicions that she was from the Rebellious Provinces. "Is it such that cats have your tonugue?"

I, as might be expected, found this confusing, and merely nodded my head. The thought struck me that, perhaps, she might want more proof, and so I showed it to her, sticking it out. I did not expect her reaction.

She burst out laughing, hands clutching at her stomach. Besides her, I felt the Seneschal glare at me, despite the mask. It was, in fact, rather embarrassing, to hear such public laughter; it is something for inside and the ears of friends and family, not something to expose with such indecency. But I suppose allowances must be made for those from the Rebellious Provinces.

She got the Seneschal to ask me for my name, status, and address (which they did, able to speak like a proper person). They then spoke together, in some babble that I did not recognise then, but which I now know to be Anglish, one of the languages of the Provinces. The Seneschal addressed me, in that hollow voice they all use. "Eniaka, are you aware of the punishments for that which you did; interrupting a procession, dishonouring the honoured dead, lateness for ones work... I can continue."

I nodded mutely.

"However," they continued, and I raised my head a little, "the Knight Lieutenant of the Order of the Ghost Owl has requested that you instead be examined for candidacy for the great honour of being sworn into the service of Her Majesty the Ever Flowing. Have you applied for candidacy before?"

I shook my head, then realising that they would want more, spoke. "No, Lord Seneschal. I have not."

The Seneschal tilted its head. "Well, if you are successful, you shall be assigned to the service of the Knight Lieutenant. If you are not so, then you shall be punished for your crimes. What is your opinion of that?"

"It is more than I deserve," I replied, trying not to let one hint of my conflicted emotions out.

"Good. Yes, yes it is," the masked figure said. It spoke to the Torch-Bearer (for that is surely who she must have been) in Anglish again, and then they just left me standing there in the street, mouth open.

I am not sure how much else to say. It is obvious that I passed the tests, and was sworn into the service of Her Majesty. If you have experience that, gatekeeper, then you know exactly what that was like; if you have not, then you almost certainly never will. It was both the greatest day of my life, and my most terrible.

And now I wait, gatekeeper, for the Knight Lieutenant, one from the Rebellious Provinces, but returned to the cause of rightness, to arrive, and take me to "San Franscisco". She insisted I be sure to wear a flower in my hair, when we last met. I do not understand, but, at great cost, I have obeyed. It is shame to take such a thing of beauty and rarity to the Provinces, though, for they can only grow close to the lamps, in the glasshouses. I am about to leave the only place of civilisation for a nightmare of demons and darkness and shadows and the terrible night, but my heart remains strong. It is necessary, after all, that the commands of Her Majesty the Ever Flowing be followed, and order maintained; else, all will be meaningless.

Outtake: Queen of SpadesEdit

Tales of the CoronationEdit

Once upon a time our people lived deep in the desert. There was little food and little water and so our ancestors became a tough and hard people who followed the herds across the sands and fought among themselves for food and water. One day a baby girl was born, and it was a time of great sadness for all her tribe for the rains had not come that year and there would be nothing to spare for a babe who could not work once she was weaned from her mother's milk.

When she was one year old the wise men of her tribe came to talk to the babe and told her why they must send her out into the desert to hope the jackals would find and raise her, for the jackals were creatures of the desert and could find food even when the rains had not come. Our Queen did not obey her elders. Even though the rules were a matter of survival our Queen was mischievous and clever, even as a child. She followed her tribe and stole what she needed. Her tribe became fearful that she had become a hungry ghost. They set out bribes and prepared traps but none worked for a hungry child always needs to eat.

When she was fifteen she returned to her people clad in the Light of her Royalty. She approached the wise men who had sent her away fourteen years ago and asked them why they would leave a child to die. They replied only that “the desert is hash, it is necessary to survive”. For three days she questioned them on every part of their lives, and always they replied “the desert is hash, it is necessary to survive”. Finally without a word she left, walking into the starlit desert.

The next morning all the tribe spoke about was the mysterious stranger and what she had left behind. The desert sands had been transformed into an image of people living by a river yet desperately digging for water. Only two people knew who the mysterious girl was: Her mother and her father, for not even the Light can blind a parent's loving eye. They knew their daughter had been saved and blessed by the light and so they followed her into the desert, always at a distance for they feared she would still hold anger in her heart.

For years the young Queen wandered the desert speaking to the wise men of every tribe. In each she heard the same answer: “the desert is hash, it is necessary to survive”. Always she left a painting when she walked away and always her parents arrived behind her and told stories of their magical daughter who survived the desert alone. A girl who could survive the desert could teach others, and then life would not be so hard.

As the tales spread, the Queen's followers grew. One day she arrived at a new Tribe to find that the word of her had travelled faster than she did. When she stepped in from the desert her people were waiting, it was her turn to answer questions: “Why must the desert be harsh?”, “Why do the rains not always come?”, “Why must a baby be so weak that it can't find its own food when the tribe has nothing to spare”. From their questions the Princess realised they had taken the first step on the hidden lessons she hoped to teach and were ready. She laughed as each new question only proved what they had learned and finally asked just one of her own. She asked “what is at the centre of all your questions”. When no one could answer our Queen did something she only does in the most special moments, she spoke plain and true to her people. She “We live in a desert, that is where all our problems come from. Come all, it is time to leave”.

Our ancestors came from all tribes into a great gathering in the centre of the desert in the hope of a better life and held a coordination for their new Queen. In the ceremony she saw her parents hiding in the crowd and felt all the hate and anger a baby can feel when she is abandoned by her parents. But our Queen was a smart woman, this was her Coronation and she knew what such a thing meant. If she felt that anger now this chance would not come again in her lifetime and so she took all her anger and all her hate and turned it into a laugh. As she embraced her parents the Coronation was complete, she was our Queen and it was time to leave the desert.

Tales of the FallEdit

Once Upon a Time there was a vast kingdom built across the peaks of the mountains. The sun always shone in the Confederacy of Four Winds for it was built above the clouds. Trade passed through the mountains and the merchants of the Confederacy brought prosperity and happiness to its people.

Though you might think a Confederacy that is always lit by the Light of the sun had little to fear from the Dark, none were safe from the Fall. The merchants and traders heard stories from far off lands and the people searched the mountain side to bring news to their Queen. The palace was filled to overflowing by the worried to hear the Queen and her generals debate. It was agreed that the Confederacy could not survive. Since it was founded the Confederacy of Four Winds had always relied on its mountains for protection but they were no defence against a Darkness. The Nine Bows could not hope to hold.

Hours past and the Queen reached her decision, they had time, wealth and the very winds at their command. The Queen commissioned a magnificent fleet of airships, her kingdom took to the sky and left the mountains that had been their home for generations. For years they fled the Darkness trading for what they needed but none of the Kingdoms that they passed were able to defeat the Darkness. There were no armies they could hide behind, no walls to shelter them and no weapon that could protect them.

When the Darkness caught up with the Confederacy at last the Queen fled in the only direction left, she fled up to the depths of space. Yet not even a Queen's magic could carry an entire kingdom and create all the food, water and air they would need. Exhausted, her magic failed in the upper reaches of the sky. The airships fell, and the Confederacy of Four Winds Fell with them.

Outtake: Queen of Mirrors (Kings Raven)Edit

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young girl with silver hair, and she was the fairest maiden in all the lands. Now, when she was six years old, the priestesses of the Moon came, and told her parents that their daughter was the reincarnation of the Hierophant-Queen, marked by her hair, and it was necessary to take her away from them, so they could raise her properly. And her parents were happy, because the Hierophant-Queen, the fairest of all, and they were only poor farmers. And the girl was taken away, and raised well, and on her eighth birthday, she came into her own, and remembered that she was truly the Hierophant-Queen, the adjudicator of disputes between the other Queens. For the priestesses of the moon were the judges as well as the priestesses, and by night, they held their courts and found the guilty, and helped the innocent, and the Hierophant-Queen was the first among them all, to ensure that thoughts of the Light were prime among them all, and that nothing bad could occur. And all was wonderful, and the Light burned ever stronger in the world.

But she did not live happily ever after; only a single year passed between her coronation and the Fall. The little girl wept when her priestesses brought her news of the wars, and she trembled with fear when she was asked for guidance; for all the paths she could see held their own tragedies. For such a young child it was too much to bear. One morning the chambermaids opened the royal quarters to find that the Queen had vanished, the young child had used her magic to run away during the night. She returned to the home of her parents but the village had already been overrun.

The greatest knights and the most powerful magicians were sent to find the Queen, but they could not find the Queen. With no one upon the throne the defenders could not hold back the Darkness, the people were slaughtered and the crystal towers fell. Triumphant the monsters of the Darkness hunted all across the land. But they could not find the Queen.