Monday, February 22, 2016

From a work in progress

Duke Chloe always got really bossy when they were under attack. Yell, yell, yell, stomp, stomp, stomp.

‘Manolo, kill those six – like this!’

Cavan knew that was the only order that really mattered. Only the golem would be much use against the Elven. Cavan was a little worried the Elven would slit her throat anyway.

That would mean she'd wasted the whole afternoon. Cavan rattled the bars of the kid-cart, and sighed.

Then she cast her Weaving, still a little rough, out onto the Wyrdweave.


Nor did the Elven ever guard themselves proper, thought Prinsloo. They didn’t duck behind cover. They drifted in your direction, they separated and prowled. Right now, looked like they were just looking for some lost trinket in the long grass at the edge of the forest. Or maybe each Elven looking for something different.

So silent. Just a little something in your ear, like quills flying over parchment.

Oh, true that her bolts would go astray. They’d bend down at just the right moment, like they'd mistaken a leaf for the bauble they sought. But that was just luck, right?

The Elven barely even registered the big bastard steel golem bearing down on them CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK and –

‘Bugger this,’ muttered Prinsloo, and nocked a quarrel in her crossbow. Beside her Marc Fouche, who'd obviously been thinking about it, grinned and followed suit.

Even the evening light seemed unsure of them. The Elven were not really illuminated, only washed in milk and ink.

‘Alright Fouchey,’ said Prinsloo. ‘See baldie? On three, put one right between his eyes. And I’ll go on three-and-a-half.’

Fouche said, without a trace of his usual stammer, ‘Nice one, general.’

‘One, two, three.’

They both missed, of course. Provisional shapes in the sepia, leached landscape tilted, as if by luck, and the bolts went into the trees.

Her and Fouchey laughed, a bleak joke.

Never mind, thought Prinsloo. The golem would draw first blood.


Cavan wove,「I always knew I was a little different.

Not special, even though I was just a country kid, and now I’m a Weaver ready to fight in for her province in the Prosperous Game. I don’t think that makes me special.

But I am different. I am Cavan van der Darkfelde. Those of you who follow me will know that I am currently High Kian’s only Champion. The Birdborn boy who was to have been High Kian's male champion has fallen to Duke Chloe's blade. 

He was not only my teammate, but my lover and friend. But that is not what this Weaving is about.

The one who fell was also my kind and my kin.

THAT is what this Weaving about. This Weaving is about what really makes me different. This Weaving is about the sky, and how it has always sung to me.

Let’s back up a bit. Darkfelde is known for its treacherous forests, its tangled coast, and for not having a third thing to be known for.

But it was not the woods that sang to me, and it was not the sea. It was only the sky. Nowadays, when I gaze up into that endless emptiness, it tells me what I already know. It tells me that I belong to it.

Birdborn of the Kingdom, I see you, I salute you. And I stand among your ranks.

Listen. My father left when I was fairly young. I never knew why. I can’t trust my memories about him. I suffered abuse and witchcraft at the hands of my grandmother, and the memories she left me with don’t make sense. I now understand him to have been Birdborn.

Of course, it’s not just my dad. When I was blessed enough to move from Darkfelde to the city, I found myself uncomfortable among my “own” kind. What was wrong with me? Why could I only truly be myself around the Birdborn I met? What was it that made me flock to them?

It’s true that I haven’t inherited much Birdborn physiogonomy. I can’t blame my grandmother’s sorcery for that. Sometimes that’s just the way the blood flows, from one generation to the next.

Fact is, I’m featherless as fowl plucked for the pot.

There is no rustling apparition creeping up my legs, up my chest, spreading its wings. When I die, I’m pretty sure, nothing’s gonna leave my lips but breath.

And yet.

The imagery squirming up your skin is not what makes you Birdborn. Any old normborn gussied up with henna or glamours can get one of those. Having your own is fairly fashionable in Ketchivan at the moment. We call them “Penna Henna” or “Vamp Stamps.” I guess it’s to do with the way it sucks away your life.

It ain’t feathers that make a Birdborn. It ain’t a father either, though mine was one.

What is it then?

Well, I know not everyone will agree. But I think it’s the sky that sings to you. It’s the sky that calls you back home.

Just a few days before I was Gathered to be Ketchivan’s Champion, I was lying on the greensward at the Academy for Weavers, cloudwatching. There was iridescent cirrocumulus.

Two friends of mine, nice normborn girls, came over to check up on me. You know the drill. What are you looking at? What are you doing? Why are just lying there? How can you just stare like that? We are enchanting up a navy of varmints, don’t you want to join us?

I laughed, and didn’t try to explain. I didn’t use the old Birdborn word, glimmerbridge, which would have described the sky overhead that evening. They wouldn’t have known what that word meant.

I certainly didn’t try to explain to them that the sky was singing to me. They wouldn’t have understood.

You see, I have the thing that really counts. I’m talking about knowing the moment that you will die. And facing your own obliteration with steadfastness, and no fear, but only joy. Your purpose is what you do in the end. And my purpose is to die.

So here’s the thing.

Isn’t that what being a Champion is all about?

I believe that the Goddess has left us because she has no more to do. I believe her creation is perfect. We all have our place in it. And there is no greater gift than acceptance. Because acceptance is the gift that must undergird every other gift. There is no greater freedom than the thing from which you can never free yourself.

I too am Birdborn.

Every Champion – every Champion, whether you are normborn or troll, Faunfolk or Talking Beast – every single one of us is Birdborn.

I feel my wings inside me. My war-wonders are woven true. And I am ready.

Peace be with you, and may the Buggered Off Goddess have left things as you best love to find them. 

Rapid arabesques flared from across the Kingdom, weaving their Weavings into Cavan's.

「research before you fart words 」said the first, from someone in Ballywort.

「that’s a nope from me 」came a Weaving in Winter River.

「it is impossible to describe how bad that is Cavan 」

The astral tendrils kept coming.

So did the Elven.

‘Let me out!’ yelled Cavan. ‘I can fight!’


Orders tumbling from Chloe’s lips, no time to think. ‘Manolo, kill those six – like this.’

She gestured, a sharp swerve levelling off, signifying to Manolo to kill at least one Elven, then spread his attacks more evenly till all were dead.

A normal skirmish, across this distance, you might think to ram the carts together and dig in quick. Golem tanking out in front. Pick ’em off with crossbow fire.

If they tried it, they’d be dead.

‘Amber, Vessels, you mount up and poach behind the golem. Holly, accuracy up all close quarters. Don’t heal no twice-dead dudes, you hear me? Jonker you’re calling the changes.’

Chloe had one foot in her stirrup. Yes boss, yes boss, yes boss.

‘No.’ An unexpected voice. ‘Let me call them.’

The Grandmasters and apprentices were already scrambling over the lip of the embankment. Wyrmringerriver had tapered away, so there was plenty of room in the riverbed to hide, so long as the great snake didn’t choose to thrash them to bits against the embankment.

But Grandmaster Wheelwright was still here. The frail old woman leaned casually against the cash cart, a dark rag in her hands. ‘I may as well,’ she smiled, and tied the blindfold.

‘Good,’ said Chloe, and mounted. Crossbow fire thumped into the trees ahead. Marc Fouche and Lesedi Prinsloo were looking sheepish, nocking fresh bolts. ‘Jonker, you came to slay today. In your saddle son and mark that golem. Uys, Blaauw, put those three in your pocket –’

‘Let me out!’ yelled Cavan. ‘I can fight!’

I’m considering it, little Champion! Everybody else, on me. Flank left when I go in. Don’t help me unless I ask for it, just kill what you can.’

Everybody else was Pestle, Pono, Prinsloo, Fouche, and Gouws. Meggit was nowhere to be seen, best place for him.

The Elven came naked. They came all but unarmed. But as the Elven flowed through the evening forest, intricate bone flowered through their skin, the early armour of the bout. And Chloe saw that already one of the bolts shot by her troops was no longer buried in the trunk, but dug out and palmed by one of the oncoming Elven.


「have you guys seen this supposedly woven by an actual Champion 」

「cw for …I don’t even know where to start just look at it 」

「blocked sorry 」

「okay so nobody is going to fucking believe the disgusting shit that Cavan van der Darkfelde has just woven 」

「can someone give me a thread to this Cavan thing 」




「TO ME 」

「I can’t even 」

「wow 」

「once you realize “different” is a codeword for “exotic” 」

「no to silencing, no to appropriation, no to letting it stand, yes to swift action, yes to apologies, but at the same time 」

「at the same time … I feel we have to tread VERY carefully whenever anyone is trying to disclose something about their fundamental experience 」

「I still feel so sick 」


When you heard that golem's stride clank clank clank you just thanked the Buggered Off Goddess that that thing was on your side. Prinsloo felt every footfall, despite the earth’s constant hum. Every footfall like a knight tumbling to the ground next to you.

Cantering after the golem were Amber Cilliers and Tshegofatso Vessels, cradling their smaller crossbows. Ben Jonker not far behind.

The Elven wandered ever closer through the feathery grass. No formation. No movement fit for soldiers. These had to be a troupe of mummers or dancers, right? Coming to river-side spot to rehearse and, in the moments before rehearsal begins, dissolved into their private reveries. Running through parts they never quite get right. Recombining at a fine grain whatever parts of the performance gave them the greatest pleasure. Not individuals, not a collective, not order, not chaos ...

They are looking at you, but they don’t seem to see you.

Maybe something has broken their minds? Or maybe they’re not hostile after all?

Or . . . are they playing with you?

They aren’t mad. They aren’t friendly. Nor are they playing with you.

They are killing you. They have already begun to kill you.


「featherless as a fowl plucked for a pot 」

「cavan van der darkfelde is anxious to normsplain that birdborn people don’t care whether we live or die 」

「it is couched in offensive language yes but it took me a while to work out what’s really problematic about it 」

「in fact we Birdborn LIKE dying 」

「go fuck yourself she didn’t disclose fuck 」

「what’s really problematic is that if you don’t agree that the world is PERFECT somehow that makes you less of a Birdborn 」

「this is such a transparent ploy I am just embarrassed for her. there are twelve fucking Birdborn in this year’s Game and Cavan wants to ally with them 」

「I can only truly be myself among Birdborn – translation I don’t give a shit what I say or do so long as it’s only Birdborn people who are there 」

「once you realize “different” is a codeword for “exotic” 」

「cw: erasure, appropriation, horrific typecasting 」

「cavan has “lots of birdborn friends” and she “really gets their culture” 」

「They wouldn’t have known what that word meant.」

「cw for like everything? 」


「apparition is a problematic word for that 」


「I cannot believe that it is the Xth Year of Her Serene Highness and I still have to literally explain to normborn people that I do not know the exact moment of my death  」

「the sordid myth of the content birdy hick content staring at the fucking fartscape overhead 」

「but NONE of the Birdborn Champions are fucking buying it 」

「Cavan if you are out there know that the Brackley Independence Army supports your struggle fam 」

「hi I noticed you have “survivor” in your coat of arms I was just curious what you had survived 」


「and Cavan has just fucked up not just her own chances but all of High Kian’s 」

「And for all Cavan’s fans in High Kian I hope you like the taste of famine 」

「so maybe a snotty rich kid would have time to “engage” with the “Birdborn community” and “make sense of her experience” and “choose appropriate language” 」

「but I’m sorry to have to tell you this but Cavan is fucking front line 」

「here we go, out the woodwork they come 」


Chloe gave her mule a kick. She’d picked her target, an elderly-looking Elven at the left edge of the line. Pale, slight and bald.

Ahead on the far flank Manolo leapt at an Elven. Seeing a golem jump for the first time can be a surprising thing. Hatches flung open and out swept his long jagged scythes. But maybe this Elven had seen a golem jump, because he was already in the air himself, rising utterly vertically. Cilliers and Vessels fired wide. Jonker fired late, his quarrel glancing harmlessly off Manolo.

Manolo’s blades swished under the Elven’s rising toes. The top of Manolo’s head flicked open. The Elven howled, his calf gashed open by a hatchet.

Chloe’s mule ate up the ground, gathering thunder, and her lance clunked heavily into place.

Manolo punched deep into the tree trunk. The Elven scampered in the bloody boughs. Manolo’s hatchet drew back into his head on a latticework arm. The tree rocked and blood swept down from its branches. Manolo’s arm seemed embedded in the tree. The forest shuddered, giant looped roots tearing free of grass and clods.

Chloe’s razor lance-tip wavered regularly, following every bob of her Elven’s adam’s apple. Two seconds –

‘Hopscotch!’ called Wheelwright.

Without hesitation Chloe cut loose her straps and plunged her lance-tip into the earth on the left side. Her bones jarred and her stomach knotted and she left her saddle. Her mule was shrieking and sinking low, legs crumbling, but now righted himself, cantering safely off to the right. Chloe was in mid-air, letting go of her vaulting-pole and starting to unsheathe her sword. Bolts whistled below and around her. Pestle galloped below her, colliding with her lance and splintering it. She landed in a sprint and two strides took her in range to lunge, once, twice, thrice at the target’s throat.


「I actually live in High Kian and I still hope they kill her first 」

「cw: erasure, appropriation, horrific typecasting 」

「are there any ACTUAL Birdborn Champions here? Interested to know what they think of this 」

「Cavan saw Death coming, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I don’t have time to reach out to the Birdborn community” 」

「in which Cavan van der Darkvelde is a misunderstood victim and we should all believe her 」

「damn right she has no time because that bitch is birdfeed 」

「fuck you 」

「original 」


Missed, missed, missed.

An Elven face floated at the tip of Chloe's sword.

Proud, pensive, patient, unperturbed. His eyes golden-grey, his features chiselled, furrowed about the jowls. As he leant back, right, left, he gave her that look. The same look you give an unruly moth you are trying to shoo into a jar, or to crush under your shoe’s heel. Chloe’s strikes had been feints of a kind, designed to teach him the wrong things about her combat style.

‘Radiance!’ called Wheelwright.

That call was a Dummy today. Chloe maintained her action. Her sword-tip missed his jugular, but sliced off a morsel of flesh at the collarbone.

His expression adjusted, just a little.


「no point in being original you only hear what fits your Narrative 」

「birdfeed is what High Kian will eat 」

「fuck you blocked」

「so now normborn all up in my weave 」

「because I need them to point out that Cavan van der Darkfelde was under pressure when she wove that Weaving, thank you guys 」


Uys and Blauw on foot, axes flashing –

Two Elven on them, Uys cutting the air, Blauw smashing the earth –



「because oh fuck it forget it 」

「by making all Champions Birdborn just by virtue of being Champions, Cavan van der Darkfelde erases the historical skewing toward Gathering Birdborn in the Prosperous Game 」

「what do you mean I can’t say “canaryboy” just cuz I’m normborn, you are such a trans phobe, I am actually a trans canaryboy 」

「when you look at the numbers, it isn’t quite true that every Province sends children to die on its behalf 」

「argh 」

「don’t weave that shit in the name of Brackley Independence Army 」

「blocked 」

「more like the Birdborn of all provinces send their children to die on behalf of the normborn of all provinces 」


The thing about the Elven, they were never content just massacring you. They also had to be fucking annoying. These fuckers held themselves to such high standards. They never just came up to you and stuck a spear in you. They had to find a way to add value.

That’s why Elven battle tactics were unique. Whereas human commanders coveted flow, the Elven were like those maddening drips of water that never fell into proper pattern. Their war engines, when they inevitably rolled forth, were unique.

But there were ways to fight back. Ketchivan, Shield of the North, knew those ways.

To prevent Elven domination, Ketchivan had developed the Calls. Keep moving and switch your tactics randomly, that was the core of it. Even when something was working, even with all your instincts screaming keep going, sometimes you had to abandon it halfway, think of something else, anything else.

There were three kinds. When you heard a Dummy Call, you were to switch tactic only if you could see some immediate profit. Otherwise maintain action. A Steer Call signified to change what you were doing – unless in that same instant you would lose your life by it, or spare an Elven from immediate death. Finally the Covenant Calls, which signified that you should change your course of action no matter what.

That was the theory. Change, even if by it you risk death. Difficult to put into practice.

Above all, the Calls needed to come at random. That’s why the Caller was blindfolded, ears stopped, ignorant of the battlefield.


「wow great logic everybody 」

「sooo tdil apparently it’s okay to switch from Rogue to Weaver but if you want to switch from normborn to Birdborn suddenly that’s not okay 」

「shit in this’s dick 」

「this was always going to happen 」

「when normborn see what they like they take it 」

「even if they got to make up some really crazy shit to do it 」

「it is not really my place to comment but I am doing what I can by reweaving the voices of Birdborn 」

「please stay safe everybody x 」

「thanks everybody who’s trying to be nice but an actual birdborn I haven’t read Cavan van der Darkfelde’s weaving and I just don’t care 」


「i am super glad that cavan van der darkfelde has had the courage to reveal herself as birdborn, I myself am birdborn 」


「she wove something about her own life she never pretended it was about your life so shut up and deal with it 」


「not all normborn are like that though 」


「wetting my pants here at everybody’s feewings getting hurt by Cavan van der Darkfelde, a girl who is literally about to go fight to the death so that those same people can keep getting their hand-outs for feeling butthurt 」

「ain’t nothing wrong with a little assplay baby 」



Uys and Blauw somehow still alive. Completely intact, except the plumes plucked from their helmets.

‘Delicatessen!’ roared Wheelwright.


「I am birdboy tweet tweet 」


「okay I don’t get why I should get blocked just for saying that not all normborn are like that 」

「surely that’s a good thing? 」

「I’m saying NOT not all normborn are like that 」

「nobody ever said ALL normborn are like that 」


Some of the mules had gone down into the riverbed. Most had stayed up here. Chloe hadn’t seen it happen, but the ones that had stayed were now dead.

The bolt, the feathers, the bones of mules: it had begun.

The Elven were building their engines.

To them, everything was potentially a component. Everything was potentially a weapon, a tool, and something else: something for which there were no proper words. Maybe because the something else was a language itself, a language of flesh and bone.

Chloe had sometimes seen cunning drawings, depicting two different things at once. A single collection of lines could be both an ogregoose and a squirrelk, depending how you squinted.

Elven war engines were a bit like that.

Except that both creatures would have to be detailed down even to the infinitesimal spirits flourishing in their guts. And if it would have to be not just two creatures but endless creatures. And their meaning would have to exceed themselves, and all the other creatures that they contradicted. They would have to also endlessly mean the life of the Elven, and the death of their foes.

But there was no way to explain them. You had to experience them, and even if your body survived, your mind never quite did.


「think I will spend today as a birdboy because everything is socially constructed 」

「nobody ever said ALL normborn are like that 」

「nobody ever said ALL normborn are like that 」

「stop centering normborn 」


The shaking of the earth grew more violent. Wymringrider’s tail was gone. Her head would be here within the hour.

Arrows arced from the opposite bank. The Fauns were aiding them. An Elven went twisting through, unbalanced but unscathed.

Fouche, Prinsloo and Bafokeng closed on him. A foot of blood-slicked metal slid out of Fouche’s back. It jagged up and vanished.

‘Diva!’ called Wheelwright.


「excuse me I don’t mean to be rude but what is “centering” 」

「like making it all about you, and also BLOCKED 」

「how dare Cavan claim to be Birdborn 」

「“socially constructed” is not the same as “illusory.” The key word is “constructed,” it’s real, it’s an edifice, you can’t just opt out of it 」

「why is it my job to work out if these people are shamming or genuinely ignorant 」

「you did the right thing blocking her 」

「I have crawled that particular dungeon way too many times before. There is no treasure there 」

「if you don’t like it why do you read it 」

「blocked 」


Marc Fouche lay red in the grass. One Elven lightly injured, and Manolo had felled three trees trying to get to him to finish the job. Now Manolo had finally flushed him out, and Chloe closed on that limping Elven. She wielded Untitled two-handed. He sparred with her, waving some bloody bludgeon vaguely.

‘Go,’ she yelled. ‘We haven’t got what you need.’

‘Die wêreld is kleiner,’ he said mildly. It was a mule’s hind leg he was brandishing at her. He had a voice like he had gargled his throat this morning with the flesh of her heart.

He kept giving her that <i>look</i>.

Above the screams and clashing metal, Ms Holly’s voice lofted melodiously. A strange feline of molten fat and lucent smoke darted between Chloe’s legs and leapt, splashing scalding into the limping Elven’s crotch.

His expression changed. A lot.


「have you had your family taken away from you by slavers because you are birdborn and they know nobody cares 」

「because I have 」

「how dare Cavan claim to be Birdborn 」

「how dare she 」

「yes you showed him, solidarity, and by the way one of the interesting facts about me is that because I am birdtrans I can kind of understand their languages even though I don’t literally speak them? I can usually guess and kind of feel what the sounds mean 」


Two pale green Elven bent low on Fouche’s corpse.


「Goddess they are everywhere gross gross gross 」

「I cannot speak for the Birdborn. I cannot say how betrayed, silenced, afraid they feel 」

「also changing my profile to trans friedwingfolk. I have the privilege to use that term because mentally I am not normborn 」

「blocked 」

「here is a vision of a proud dual class normborn birdborn who is not afraid to present as her true race. Stay strong sis I am digging that boa 」



Over the Elven’s shoulder, ten feet away, Amber Cilliers, eviscerated, hung from a tree. Unspooling viscera had been braided, and rose tautly. Puppeteered by some Elven tucked out of sight, her long gut whipped round smartly. Something dark and gleaming wound among in the purple loops.

The Elven took a step back and lifted the sundered limb he held, probing the taut line of Amber’s viscera. The hock joint flopped, the angles shifted, and as Pestle galloped behind him, his axe blow wildly stray, the crossbow bolt that was wound among Amber’s guts slipped into Pestle’s visor and buried itself deep.


「Cavan van der Darkfelde is about one sentence away from repeating the myth that our birds fly in our arses when we’re babies 」

「ain’t nothing wrong with a little assplay baby 」

「yeah but, you know. Not as definitive of a People 」

「don’t kink shame c’mon baby 」

「birdboys suck elf cock and elf loves the beak in ass 」

「baby cmon 」


Raw-swords built into body-bergs. The Elven wielded several body-bergs by now. Murdered flesh and bone knitted with stolen metal. Huge, diaphanous, articulated cones. Seams of crushed jigsawed bone. Pulleys of muscle, skin and hair. A chaos. Fragments. Everywhere blood, blades, and body parts. Another Elven joined the first, together brandishing a body-berg toward Chloe. Fresh reek, meat and sweetness.


「this Weaving has triggered a lot of stupid traumatic shit that I cannot deal with now so bye for a bit xxx 」

「as if other bodies can never wear their deaths on their surfaces 」

「as if it is only the Birdborn you can look at and see that death is coming 」



Two pale green Elven working on Marc Fouche. Fouche not dead yet at all. Something jamming his lungs, stopping him from screaming.

One Elven flaying him, telescoping one arm, unravelling it to a ribbon. The other twisting a cornucopia of ribs into the base of Fouche’s spine.

Prinsloo and Bafokeng closed on them.

A skein of slashing fragments and swivelling struts bore down on Chloe. She blocked and slashed and blocked and slashed. Seething, leaking, completely fragile from certain angles, but always rigid behind the edges that lashed out, the barbs that stabbed.

In the corner of Chloe’s eye, Ms Holly swung her wand-stump. A smoking hole gaped in the body-berg, and Chloe dove through it.

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