I carried Touching from a Distance around in my backpack for most of my senior year of high school, and even I don’t think this needs to exist.
I’ve seen a lot of rainbows this summer.
It’s been especially fun when they show up because we’re watching a lot of 80s cartoons lately, and the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that rainbows are the gold standard in fighting evil, fascism, dark magic, people who hate fun, and people who live in castles that are very dark and pointy.
It’s an escape, and an addictive one.
Her routine doesn’t vary much: wake up, work at family bakery, be escorted home by secret husband. And so, the other characters start noticing quickly, starting with her friend, a glass merchant who takes the university magic test every single day, even though it’s supposed to test innate ability.
It wasn’t until well after I wrote this that I hammered out the details of how, exactly, she stole the vial. In the rewrite of this scene, she’s going to be much, much more nervous.
Clapping came from the window table. “I didn’t know baking could be an athletic event.”
Pinuar had come in, and I hadn’t heard the bell.
“The usual, please, after you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.”
I turned away and chewed my enormous bite of sausage braid as quickly as I could. How long had he been there? There was no way to ask without revealing the depth of my embarrassment, and so I set to getting his [usual order].
“That was an interesting song,” he said as I put down the food and took his money. “Unexpected.”
I didn’t immediately realize what he was talking about.
My blankness must’ve showed. “The one you were humming during your performance.”
I struggled to remember blur of the last few hours. Realization smashed like a shipwreck. The song from the city camped outside the city. The song I had picked up in a place that, still, was a total mystery to me. I had been humming like a deranged person as I whirled between the three recipes.
Relax, I told myself. He was only making conversation. “I suppose it helps the work go by faster.”
Pinuar sipped his cinnamon tea and peeled back a layer of his roll. “You seemed fast enough.” He shrugged. “But the Suong aren’t allowed in your city, and I know you’ve rarely left.”
Never. I had never left, not until last night, and I hadn’t known until now that I had been in a Suong encampment. I went back to the counter to fetch Pinuar a napkin, my mind spinning useless circles around my imbecilic slip-up.
Peeling back another layer, he dunked the roll in his tea. “Where did you pick it up? Songs don’t have the legs to travel on their own.”
Of all the things to ask. I decided to tell what was probably the truth. “Oh, I picked it up from a Suong. One with the legs to sneak into places.” With just a hint of lie thrown in. “Nirsuathu isn’t exactly air-tight.”
Pinuar smiled. “Very true.”
I decided to change the subject. “Taking the magic test again tomorrow?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been practicing.”
Many of the scenes I could’ve posted are too spoilery, and in fact, this one might be as well. But it showcases something that comes up a lot in the second half of the book: the oneiromantic messenger bird, as manifested by Master Zanhrori.
In this world, there are dedicated oneiromancers whose only job it is to pass messages with these birds. They are often looked down upon as a cross between a secretary and a mail carrier, two professions involving skills that aren’t always visible on the surface. The same goes for those who send messenger birds.
On his way back down, the paper and smoke bird hit him in the chest. He grabbed it reflexively before he realized what it was, then frowned at the crumpled thing in his hand.
“Let’s see,” he said, and held it up without opening it. “’Piro, Piro, Piro—’”
“He wouldn’t write your name three times.”
“No, I suppose not.” He held up the messenger bird and began again, “’Pirohleko. I hope this finds you well. If you are able, please bring five dozen loaves of Nirsuathan seed bread. Snoo will take nothing else. Please make sure that Tyatavar knows where she is going, even though I have already gone over this with her. And fix your hair. Signed, Zanhrori.’”
Then Piro shoved it in his pocket, and we returned to the sort of behavior that had been costing us time for the last while. We were gazing into each other’s eyes in what was likely a quite sickening fashion when the second messenger bird came.
I slapped my neck, thinking it to be some sort of enormous insect.
“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”
When I first read that quotation in Dune twenty years ago, it struck me as something true and profound. It’s been incorporated into my worldview so long and so thoroughly that I don’t always notice the words themselves, even if they’re there at the back of my mind.
It’s one metric by which I judge others and myself, and it’s something that’s been in my head a lot lately not only because I am re-reading Dune and realizing what a formative book it was for me, but also because of everything going on in the world right now.
We live in an age of militant, polarized opinions. Some people share their opinions online; others go out to protest. Either way, this is always the question I ask.
I started posting excerpts of Stars Fall Out when I was halfway through the draft. As a result, I haven’t posted excerpts of a lot of the early action that defines the book, including the main character’s use of a magic vial that allows travel from one place to another via a natural body of water.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that knowing better isn’t the same as doing better. I like stories with intelligent characters, but I also like characters who fuck everything up and get in their own way.
I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.
This post is the third excerpt in a sequence that I’ve posted over the last two weeks. Here’s the first and second, which involve stealing the vial and discovering that it’s damn uncomfortable to use.
You’d think I would be smarter this time. That I would bind up a change of clothes so they wouldn’t get wet. That I would pack money and bread. That I would bring a map or compass.
Instead, I was less smart. I packed none of those things, and I barely even concealed myself. “I’ll take it from here,” I had told Tirsan when we came in sight of my home. “You’re tired.”
Then I had waited half-behind a tree, and watched as Tirsan walked away, the limp still present in his step after all these months.
I ran almost to the bridge, then slowed to a stroll so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. But when I made it to the water, when I filled the vial and chugged it down, I practically dove in.
Water swept me down and crushed me, squeezed my rib cage, until I washed up elsewhere, free of the city, free of all of it.
Infinity, was what I thought when I looked at the beach.