Update: Love is the Reckoning

Cover of Love is the Reckoning: A Marchverse Novelette by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a cartoony-styled indoors tavern scene with a lot of different brown wood textures: wood panelling on the walls, wood floor, a square wood window frame, a crooked wooden table in the centre of the image and a wooden stool and a wooden barrel sitting in front of it. A candle stub sits on the window frame, looking out to dark green trees against a star-lit sky. The table bears beer glasses, a green wine bottle, a brown bottle of spirits, orange liquid in a glass, a plate of biscuits and a plate bearing a wedge of yellow cheese with red rind. A wooden log rests against one side of the window frame, an unsheathed longsword against the other, and a sack sits against the wall underneath the table. A cage bearing a twisted, vine-style plant sits in the top right-hand corner, above the table. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Esher Hill left his home and kin a crying wreck of a man, too depressed and dysphoric to care what his people make of him. If he’d had his way, that would have been the end of it.

His sister Mara, the village witch, made sure he didn’t.

Two and a half years later, Esher owns two dogs, a blade, a career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle Mara refuses to explain. A miracle the Sojourner’s priests reject and fear. A miracle, say the Grey Mages, that cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange: a soul.

Returning home in search of his sister and the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers, explanations and the condescending pity from those he left behind.

Love holds edges sharper than Esher’s sword, for nobody wins but demons in the sale of souls.

Contains: A graysexual, aromantic trans man fighting his own mind; the trans sorcerer of a sister who loves him; a grizzled aro-ace mayor and barkeep; and a heavy reliance on schemes and manipulations in the absence of simple communication.

Setting: Marchverse, nearly three years after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query.

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. For more detailed information, please see the digital file editions linked below.

Links: PDF (read in browser) | Patreon

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

Length: 10, 463 words / 39 PDF pages.

Note: As this story has undergone significant changes, I thought I’d repost the web edition as well. If you’d like to see the earlier version in its verboseness, willingness to wallow in feelings of depression and odd editing failures, I’ve left the original up for comparison. I think this new version is a better telling of Esher’s story … but perhaps not quite as faithful a rendition of what writing looks like while depressed.

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

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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 nearly 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 recommend reading the reworked edition of this story, available on WordPress and Patreon.

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

Cover image for The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a cemetery at night, with various tombstones in the foreground, surrounded by grassy rises and green bushes, with a tumbledown stone fence and trees in the background. A lit candle sits on the ground at the front of the cover, showing a glow of orange light illuminating grass and part of a tree branch. Cover and author credit are written in a white, fantasy-style text, the type bright against the dark sky and shadowed leaves.Necromancer Mara Hill has waited weeks for the Thinning: the one night the dead walk freely amongst the living. Her wandering great-aunt, Rosie, was wise in the way of magic and the world, and Mara knows of none other to ask. Books and magic alike haven’t restored her fading love, and Benjamin Lisabet is too wonderful to risk losing. Why can’t Mara keep herself from falling out of love whenever the girl she yearns for dares love her back?

She’s sure that Aunt Rosie’s spirit will offer up needed advice. She just doesn’t expect a deluge of deceased villagers set on unravelling everything Mara knows about what it means to love and be in love.

Contains: A sapphic, lithromantic trans witch fearing her shape of love; a bisexual aunt who adores girls; an aro-ace trans brother armed with pokers; a wealth of casual queerness; and a world learning to be bold about its own diverse aromanticism.

Setting: Marchverse, one day before The Mundane Progression of Premortem Colloquy.

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 in Love is the Reckoning. Please expect a fair bit of discussion about experience of romantic attraction and note that the protagonist is a lithromantic who is comfortable with being the subject of romantic interest. I don’t recommend this story for people who have severe sexual and/or romantic repulsion.

Links: PDF (read in browser) | Patreon

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

Length: 8, 221 words / 32 PDF pages.

Note the first: 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 one’s 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.

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

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Fletcher Ace Preview: Magic and Mermaids

Magic and Mermaids: An expensive education and a growing eldritch library hasn’t helped Fletcher Ace, local witch, end the drought gripping the town of Shadowdale. The town council may have a better solution than waiting on hir magic, one that involves the selling of romance to people “out there”, but Fletch isn’t prepared for just how it will involve hir…

Word count: 7, 549 words.

Content advisory: Several references to amatonormativity in romance narratives and fairy tales; several descriptions of romantic and sexual behaviours, including kissing, in the context of these tales. No character, though, experiences sexual or romantic attraction. This story also depicts drought, which may bring this too close to home for some of my Aussie readers. There are also death mentions and references to the presumed, entirely-theoretical suicide of those older people who choose not to leave Shadowdale.

Setting: This takes place on the Stormcoast, a region north of Malvade on the Western side of the Straits, a good many years after Kit March. Other than a few place-name references, there is zero crossover with the other Marchverse works. Readers may like to know that Shadowdale follows the Eastern family contention of a child taking a parent’s use/common name as surname. (Fletch’s mother, therefore, is named Ace.) The conceit of Shadowdale is that everybody is aro-ace, but, just like talking corncobs, I don’t plan on explaining the why of this.

Note the first: Due to pain and multi-day migraines caused by my new desk set up, there’s no point in a linkspam post for this week. So I’ll combine everything next week and today post the first section of Fletcher Ace as a preview. Please note that this is not a final draft and I expect to make a few changes between this and the completed novella, but this section does have an ending in its own right.

Note the second: This story came into being because I am an annoyed, petty aro who decides to make a town of aro-ace in response to the common trend of television adaptations erasing the aro (and sometimes the aro-ace as well) from aro-ace characters. If you’d like to know more on my thought process and plans for this story, please check out the Fletcher Ace tag on @aroworlds. I will allow that this story has ended up taking the somewhat absurd concept of selling romance seriously, which may not work for all readers.

Stories preach the same cruel truth: romantic love pounds through artery and vein, as essential to life as air and water.

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Linkspam Friday: August 17

This week, for various reasons, my anxiety has edged far too close to intolerable. Much of my response to it involves my trying to minimise the outward appearance of said anxiety, which saves me from judgement but denies me the release of expressing it. I’m falling apart so terrifically inside this membrane of skin while Western society is structured in such a way that I have limited ability to safely voice this experience outside it. Not only do I have to survive the pain of a brain that is disabling me, I have to survive both the lack of support this disability gets and that lack making it difficult to try and talk even to those few willing to listen.

In a way the ordinariness of anxiety, as something so common a significant percentage of people suffer it at least at one time, makes it difficult for those of us with severe forms (especially severe forms complicated by other diagnoses, like autism) to be acknowledged and treated as such. In therapy, I’m more often handed things that work for people with mild to moderate anxiety, with the expectation that’s all that’s needed to help me. The psychologists think I’m not trying hard enough, while I don’t feel seen or understood. I’m going back to a normal psychology program to be treated for my current peak of anxiety (this way I don’t have to ring or email anyone, just show up) but I am anxious (oh hear the bitter laughter) that this is going to be another disaster with another psychologist who treats my anxiety as moderate and ignores the autism.

I’ve had a good psychologist in the mix, and I like my current psychiatrist a lot, but that hasn’t erased my trauma. In many ways, it makes me feel that my trauma response is invalid or absurd. I know good medical professionals exist, so why do I panic so much about seeing them? Why can’t I trust that a new one will also be good? But I do and I can’t. New medical professionals terrify me, especially new mental health medical professionals.

I’m thinking about pausing my current projects to work on Ein’s next story (the sequel to The King of Gears and Bone). It might be more distressing than is good for me: that story cut far too close to the bone to write even at a time when I felt (more) stable. It might also give me a way of talking through my character at a time when I am so silenced. I’m feeling the pitch of anxiety, distrust and isolation, so if I must endure this again, perhaps I should make what use of it I can by channelling it into my character.

It’s not as though I’m accomplishing anything off my to-do-list right now, so if writing that out gives me somewhere to go with it all, maybe that won’t be a bad thing.

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Linkspam Friday: August 10

I’m trying to get used to a new keyboard/desk arrangement on the advice from the OT at the pain clinic, which is making typing difficult for me. Even the slightest of changes in posture and arrangement throw me off to a ridiculous degree in terms of body memory, pain and not triggering migraines–I will get used to it, probably, but the adjustment period is difficult, more disabling for me than my pain. I’ve now also got to hunt down an affordable sideways mouse to see if that helps me use it more comfortably.

On the positive side, I do keep my shoulders and neck in the correct position, and I’ve been using my iPad as well as it is possible to use a tablet in terms of propping it on pillows and my bag. His opinion is more that I shouldn’t be trying to use it with the tucked-in-no-arms-out-everywhere position wielded by everyone else … but it’d be so nice to be able to comfortably use my devices on the train without needing to occupy two seats. I still don’t know how other folks do this. Not being autistic? Souls sold to demons? Who knows, because I don’t.

Apparently I type fast, but I talk, walk and read fast, too, so this should be a surprise to nobody. I’ve never operated at normal human speed.

Post: “Heartfelt”, The Good Doctor and Autistic Character Arc – In which I prove that I am still not over this ableist disaster of an episode by complaining about it and discussing the need to centre our need for representation instead on the works of autistic creatives. I admit that I have a few horses in this race, but I am so tired of seeing The Good Doctor praised for including a character who moves like me when the story is still so focused on seeing Shaun become more allistic. One day I’ll have the spoons to write a long-arse essay on why I am not a fan.

Post: Trans Characters Versus Trans Fiction – In which I rant about the phenomenon of seeing any book with a trans side character (by a cis author) recommended (by cis reviewers) as trans fiction … while trans authors of trans fiction with trans narrating protagonists struggle to get the same recommendations and audience. I have horses in this race as well to say the least, but am I tried of having well-meaning folks recommend me a story as important trans rep only to discover that the character is a side character.

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Fiction: The Wind and the Stars

Cover for "The Wind and the Stars" by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a night-time scene of black, silhouette-style tree branches against a cloudy sky with a full moon, a lighter halo of cloud surrounding it, in the top centre of the cover. The title text, in white serif and antique handdrawn-style type, is framed by three white curlicues, and a fourth curlicue borders the author credit at the bottom of the cover.True love’s kiss will break any spell. Always be kind to wizened crones. The youngest son is most favoured by wise foxes and crows. Princes save princesses from beastly dragons and towers overgrown with briar brambles. A happily ever after always involves a wedding…

The Wind and the Stars is a short aro-ace fairy tale about heroes, love, adulthood and the worlds we make in the stories we tell.

Links: PDF (read in browser)Patreon | Smashwords | Gumroad

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

Length: 1, 309 words / 4 pages.

Content advisory: Please note that this story contains non-explicit sexual references. It’s also a story about storytelling, so it refers to common fairy tale structures that contain misogyny, heterosexism and amatonormativity, along with depicting society’s unquestioning reaction to these structures. There’s no romance beyond the mention of other characters in romantic relationships. It’s also written in second person.

Note the first: This wasn’t meant to be a thing. I was walking to an appointment while an idea popped into my head. Since I liked how it read after I’d finished scribbling (while sitting in the waiting room), and since there’s nothing stopping me from editing, formatting and designing a digital book, well…

Words, the right ones, can tell you who you are.

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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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