Fiction: Kin of Mind

A dragon in need of a human attendant finds providence in the arrival of a magician in need of a library, but more than phalanges and history binds Azhra and Darius in companionship.

Setting: Several hundred years after the short stories Friendship and Attraction; several months before Certain Eldritch Artefacts, during Darius’s first year away from the College. Reading these stories isn’t required for comprehension, but this story is written with the expectation that readers will find enjoyment in Azhra being Azhra and Darius being Darius.

Content advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence involving fire, carnivores and dragons, ageism, autistic-targeted ableism and the medicalisation of the autism spectrum.

Length: 4, 047 words / 12 PDF pages.

Note the first: This short story is an exclusive for Patreon supporters. It’s also available in the Marchverse collection Bones, Belts and Bewitchments.

Azhra breathes the tart, acidic aura of magic for an hour before the sweating human makes it up the incline. With no attendant, ze can’t brush hir hide, but ze wipes hir emerald snout and copper claws on the closest patch of grass, hoping to appear presentable. Humans are more agreeable the more they can pretend dragons aren’t the ultimate apex predator. Even if this one has no interest in staying, they can still speak of hir to their family and friends.

Hope quickens hir breath and quivers hir tail.

What if ze can convince a human to remain?

A few centuries ago, no dragon lacked service. Nobles viewed them as an opportunity for their children to meet other nobles, sending more princesses than wanted by the most affable of dragons. Now, Azhra can go a year without speaking to even the census-takers, nervous scholars hoping to determine the number of cattle Rajad, Siya and Khaloun will lose to a dragon’s gullet.

Telling their few visitors that Council will pay fair wages for willing workers gets them nowhere. The town in the valley refuses to deal with any dragon after Heisa’s incident. What stories are humans now telling about dragons in Rajad and Khaloun? Surely there’s people in need of supporting their kinsfolk or leaving them, people who won’t object to magic and adventure? The Athenaeum sends the odd historian and academic to catalogue hoards, but none since Faiza show interest in the work of a companion—and Faiza’s family didn’t permit them to remain in Tierre.

Dwelling on the old days does no dragon good, but even quiet reflection brings envy and pessimism. The last human to stay for a lifetime was a duchess’s daughter from a Western country—a small province since swallowed up by the former Astreuch empire.

What was her name?

Keep reading at Patreon: Part One and Part Two.

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Linkspam Friday: March 1

Last week was Aromantic Awareness Week! If you’d like to see my posts and the awesome content I reblogged from other aro-spec creatives, it’s on the @aroworlds Tumblr under the #aaw2019 tag.

I’m also working on a post to discuss changing my pronouns from singular they to ze/hir, because the why of feeling unsettled by my former pronouns is something that needs more than a paragraph or two. For the moment, while I’ve a great many book files to update, I’d like to state that I am going by the ze/hir set. I’ll accept “they” as an auxiliary pronoun for people who can’t use ze/hir in spoken English, but as I don’t feel this set describes me, I’d appreciate it if folks avoid this in written English.

I’m not being misgendered, exactly; they still positions me as outside the female/male binary. But it also doesn’t now describe my shape of genderlessness, and since I’ve reasons to regard they (in my experience) as a sort of compromise or concession pronoun, I’m becoming uncomfortable with it. But I’ll save more of this for later…

(Aside from Tes in Kit March, Hallo, Aro: Unspoken and A Gift of Naming show this set in use from the perspective of the narrating protagonist. If you want to know the spoken pronunciation, I’ve been referring people to this mypronouns.org article.)

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Fiction: Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie

Cover of Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a wooden door set into a wooden wall with a paper sign on the front reading Mara Hill, Witch. Stones, bones and feathers tied to string dangle over the top of the door, along with a creeping vine, and two potted plants sit on either side of a wooden doorstep--white daisies in a bag and orange roses in a brown pot. A straw broom rests propped against one side of the door and a piece of torn paper reading Absolutely No Love Spells sits on the step. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Lovers’ Day is good trading for a witch who deals in enchantments, ribbons and dyed flowers. For Mara Hill, it’s long been a holiday of tedious assumptions and painful conversations—once best handled by casting petty curses on annoying customers. This year, when a girl asks about love spells, it may be time to instead channel a little Aunt Rosie.

Contains: A sapphic, allosexual, lithromantic trans witch enduring the most amatonormative holiday extant–in a small town still in want of open conversations about aromanticism.

Setting: A year and a half after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query and a year before Love is the Reckoning. It is readable if you haven’t read Reckoning, but I do suggest reading Query first. I spend little time rehashing the story of the night that Mara learnt about aromanticism from her great-aunt’s shade.

Content advisory: Much of this piece concerns the amatonormativity surrounding a real-world holiday, because unsubtle allegory is a wonderful thing. Please note that this story also includes a non-specific reference to an off-screen character’s suicide attempt and the ableism of the way people talk around mental illness. A character also uses the phrase “kill me” where we’d would use something like “fuck me” in keeping with the Sojourner’s followers’ regard of death. While I don’t explain it in text, it’s meant to be unholy awkward in keeping with the above. Dead Horse Hill’s religion is terrible at reconciling suicide with the way it frames and refers to death, and Esher talks more about this in the sequel to Love is the Reckoning.

Links: PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 3, 429 words / 10 PDF pages.

It’s a terrific exercise in redundancy, but some people find the words “no love spells” to be a bewildering subtlety.

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The Crew of Esher Hill: Absence of Language

Summary: Three months ago, Kit March abandoned his fiancé without even a note of explanation for a deserving man. Leaving Lauri should have brought him a wondrous freedom from the pressures of romantic expectation, so how does a talented magician end up performing flash magic for buttons and hairpins in Raugue’s worst tavern? Kit doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to think about it as long as he can keep drowning guilt in beer and spellworking, but when a stranger offers the word “aromantic” followed by a dangerous quest to the Gast, Kit may have more distraction than he can survive.

Word length: 7, 209 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to amatonormativity, allosexism, cissexism, heterosexism, depression, autistic-targeted ableism, alcohol and alcohol used as a coping mechanism for depression. This story takes place in Astreut where heterosexism and cissexism are endemic, but there’s also references to the way people see aromantics in particular as heartless or hateful. There’s also several non-explicit sex references, Kit’s use of sex as another coping mechanism, some casual references to and depictions of violence, and a heaping mountain of guilt.

Chronology: This chapter takes place three months after Ringbound, one month after Love is the Reckoning and a little under a year before Old Fashioned. The chronological order for these interconnected stories featuring both Esher and (young) Kit is The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query (Esher), Ringbound (Kit), Love is the Reckoning (Esher), The Crew of Esher Hill (Esher and Kit) and Old Fashioned (Kit, taking place after Kit’s return from the Gast). Please note that, as ever, Kit rarely meets a truth that he feels obliged to preserve for later taletelling.

Note the first: Welcome to the first chapter of The Crew of Esher Hill, a serial story about six trans, a-spec, neurodiverse folks on a quest into a weird part of the Marchverse, there to face monsters, find an artefact and learn to trust each other. Because Kit is the narrator and knows nothing about Esher, this chapter is readable if you haven’t read Love is the Reckoning. I’ll mention, however, that there is an unfinished story between this chapter and Love is the Reckoning, detailing the deal Esher makes with the Grey Mages. This chapter does not reveal all that goes down in the creation of this deal, but if you don’t want to read things out of order, I’d recommend waiting on reading this. If you’re desperate to know what happens in terms of Esher’s saving Mara, on the other hand, this will assuage some curiosity. Some.

(I am not sure on a posting schedule. Please don’t get excited about the spectre of new, regular content!)

Note the second: Some folks may remember that I posted Old Fashioned last year for @aggressivelyarospec’s #AggressivelyAroSpectacular. I liked the symmetry of this year posting the interaction that provoked the explanation Kit gave Amelia on the subject of aromanticism, so here it is. Old Fashioned kicked off for me the posting of twelve short works with aro-spec protagonists, so I want to say a huge thank you for starting me off on a year of aromantic fiction!

Awkward words spoken by a stranger shatter a lie so ordinary that Kit never stopped to question its falsehood.

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Fiction: Love is the Reckoning

Summary: Two and a half years ago, Mara Hill took her depressed, dysphoric brother to Sirenne in the hope of saving his life. Now, Esher returns to Dead Horse Hill with two dogs, a blade, a new career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle the priests who cared for him deny. A miracle the Grey Mages claim cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange. A miracle Mara refuses to explain, even though Esher knows she is the only person willing to make such a trade.

Esher wants to know what she did and how she did it, but finding the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers and the condescending pity from those he left behind. Not when this isn’t the only secret Mara keeps from him…

Theme: A non-amorous, grey-asexual, aromantic trans man dealing with family, love, suicidal ideation, dysphoria and amatonormativity. Consider this story as about complications of these things against a backdrop of coming home, consent and an acceptance of mental illness as something that doesn’t always have a bow-wrapped cure.

Word length: 11, 561 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to terminal illness, depression, body horror, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, cissexism, heterosexism, allosexism and amatonormativity. Trans readers should note that Esher has undergone what seems a near-perfect medical (magical) transition, which may be difficult to read on a high-dysphoria day. I also have two characters who have engaged or will engage in actions I can only term as a voiding of Esher’s right to informed consent with regards his magical transitioning and soul ownership. Esher doesn’t have time or space to even begin to figure out how he feels, but most of his later stories are about, in part, exploring this and the consequences of a culture of denial and avoidance wielded by those who love us.

Note the first: This story takes place three years after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query. There are a few references to Mara and Aunt Rosie that will make better sense if this is read first, but the passing of time between the stories is such that I think Love is the Reckoning is readable on its own. (Much of the history on which this story is concerned takes place after Mara’s night in the graveyard.) If you don’t read it, know that Mara spoke to her dead great-aunt one night for reassurance on her own lithromanticism.

Note the second: I am working on the digital editions for this and the aforementioned piece, for folks who dislike reading in a browser and would rather wait for a PDF or EPUB version. I’m posting this now, though, for the #AggressivelyAroSpectacular event run by @aggressivelyarospec.

Yes, and that’s what scares him: his erasure writ in the words of love.

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Fiction: Maybe When the Bones Crumble

Summary: His hand broken, his father dead, his brother rebelling and his mother dancing the bones, Einas ein Iteme has nobody at the Eyrie but the chancellor and one cursed question he can’t escape.

Content advisory: This story depicts several shades of ableism targeted at autistics and chronic pain patients, along with a good amount of casual cissexism and more direct heterosexism. I’m intentionally writing about the ableism that isn’t seen by the abled as ableism, but for this reason it may be more distressing for disabled readers. It also takes place in the context of civil war and familial abuse, with references to both. Please note that there’s references of medical mismanagement and poor handling of meltdowns; there’s also depictions of and references to self-harm, one of which may be interpreted as suicidal ideation. It’s also worth mentioning that this story does not have a happy ending, at least for the moment. This begins to change in Birds of a Feather.

Word count: 4, 945 words.

Note the first: Maybe When the Bones Crumble takes place before, during and immediately after Their Courts of Crows, detailing Ein’s time in the Eyrie while Paide and Zaishne war it out across Ihrne and Arsh. Please note that this isn’t written to be accessible to newcomers: I don’t spend words on detailed explanations on how Ein came to be injured or the fact of Ein’s autism.

Note the second: I have a relative who breaks me every time she asks me this same question. (What part of chronic pain do abled people not understand? All of it, including the fact that it doesn’t just magically go away.) Her latest rendition took place on the eighth anniversary of the injuries that caused my chronic wrist pain, an unexpected double-blow, so I wanted to put this hurt and frustration to story—the growing knowledge that just as my pain won’t change, neither will the attitudes of the people who hurt me. So this is a short, personal piece that I’m posting, fairly unedited, to get that weight of feeling outside my skin. I’ll also mention that this story is a deliberate examination of the way autism, anxiety and chronic pain come together, things inseparable in Ein and in me.

It seems to him then that pain is its own irrevocable truth.

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Fiction: The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query

Summary: On the night of the Thinning, necromancer Mara Hill goes to the village graveyard to ask a question she can’t risk sharing with the living. The meddling dead, however, speak more than Mara expects about their once-living experiences of love and attraction.

Theme: The story features an a sapphic allosexual akoi/lithromantic woman, with a non-amorous aro-ace man and a bisexual aromantic woman as side characters. Several other (dead) village aro-specs also talk in light detail about their aromantic-spectrum experiences.

Word length: 8, 115 words.

Content advisory: The protagonist, the protagonist’s love interest and her mentor are all allosexual, so while there are no explicit sex references, there are references to having sex and experiences of sexual attraction. Discussions of amatonormativity and internalised hatred are a given. There’s also vague and non-detailed references to gender dysphoria and depression, as this story sets up further examinations of both (from Esher’s POV) in Love is the Reckoning. There’s a fair bit of discussion about experience of romantic attraction and the protagonist is fine with being the subject of romantic interest. I don’t recommend this story for people who have severe sexual and/or romantic repulsion.

Note the first: This is set in the Marchverse as a prequel to Love is the Reckoning, but it requires no prior knowledge of anything to read and takes place a good forty years before The Eagle Court books and Kit March. This said, if you’ve read The King of Gears and Bone, you may find interesting here a few further revelations about necromancy and Ein’s demons/angels (depending on your theological position).

Note the second: In a world where names have power, people get around this by having a secret true name (heartname) they share only with close family/trusted friends and a nickname or common name (shroudname) they use with everyone else. Some cultures consider a signed heartname to be more emblematic of true identity than its verbal equivalent. Additionally, naming customs in this region involve children taking their brood parent’s shroudname as a last name, given the commonality of non-cisheteronormative relationships and marriages. If there is no known brood parent, the sire parent’s name or the shroudname of the adoptive parent will be used instead.

Note the third: Yes, I did say I’d post this before Halloween, but tell that to my frozen shoulder. Apologies for the half-baked editing on this one. It is much in want of further going-over before I properly publish. Chronic pain is a hell of a thing.

In a small village where everyone thinks they know everyone else, conversations become dangerous.

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