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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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Maker

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Maker: Darius chose Tes’s presence over his health, a gift for which books, stones and homewares are no just recompense. How can ze repay a magician when ze isn’t sure, despite his words, that ze still belongs at the College?

Chapter count: 10, 415 words.

Content advisory: Darius uses the word “cripple” to describe himself in a way that’s more self-hatred than reclamation and “crippling” to describe the loss of his hand. Tes thinks hirself wrong for being aro-ace, which is debunked in non-subtle references to the stereotype of autistics being perceived as incapable of love by allistics. Both use “broken” to refer to themselves. There are also discussions of blood magic, sacrifice and the gnomes used as weapons/torture devices. It’s implied over several paragraphs that the Lord mutilated Darius as a means of imprisoning a multi-disciplined magic worker via limiting his ability to pay for magic. Tes’s statement about Darius no longer being a soldier is also cruel and ableist to say to a disabled man, but ze doesn’t realise this. Also, I reference sexual assault, ableism and allosexism in my first note.

Note the first: These days, I’m ace. Pan aro-ace. I suspect I feel aesthetic attraction, miscategorised as sexual because that’s what society says you’re supposed to feel. Unfortunately, being a-spec, autistic and otherwise disabled is an uncomfortable thing with activists using the words “desexualisation” and “dehumanisation” to deny me representation and the visibility/knowledge it gives. If I’d known I was aro-ace, I wouldn’t have found myself trying to perform the cisheteronormative and amatonormative relationships that put me—an autistic who struggles to communicate no in ways allistics hear and respect—in violating situations. It matters to me that Tes gets words sooner rather than later, and it matters to me to be able to show a journey through Darius that isn’t immediate recognition of one’s aromanticism, a belated recognition coloured by an autistic’s position in navigating social norms.

Note the second: Yes, the words “asexual” and “aromantic” don’t fit the linguistic approach used for other terms in narrative. (Although there is a point in the construct of “same” (cis) and “similar” (allistic) as used by trans autistics, namely that autism and gender for us are inseparable; I haven’t yet had the space to show how this language is seldom used by allistic trans people.) I find there is some awareness of “autism” and “trans” (for all that we autistics know the dangers of awareness) when I speak them to others, but “asexual” was only recently added to the dictionary. Hence, I decided to use the real words, representation over consistency, as they’re too seldom spoken even when we do exist as characters. (Although “autism” as a word does exist in Amelia’s medical texts, and should my shoulder let me work on Conception, you’ll find out why Amelia and Kit don’t use it.) In the rewrite, I probably won’t use fantastic terms at all: if a horse is called a horse in fantasy, and a sword a sword, a trans person can be called a trans person. It says something about being trans (internalised cissexism) that I did feel, on starting to write this, that it is too modern a word to work, but why should it be?

Maybe you’ll know, one day, that memory names.

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